Samantha Nel

Founders’ Flightless Dung Beetles

By Phillip Gouza


Flightless Addo Dung Beetles at Founders Reserve have been seen using dung balls to cool their feet!


They rest their hot feet on top of the dung ball and take a breather. Put your own feet up and read about the tiny creatures we cannot do without…


Located in the birthplace of conservation in the Eastern Cape, the Founders Lodge Experience revolves around intimate interaction with the natural environment. When Shamwari was established by the founder of Mantis, Adrian Gardiner, big game was re-introduced to the area. So too were all the ecological health workers in the chain of life. More than 20 years on, these little creatures remain the stars of the Founders Lodge nature walk – an experience that delves into the workings of everyday life on the reserve.

A critical creature in the rewilding of Shamwari in the 1990s were the Addo Flightless Dung Beetles. These environmentally friendly bugs help to aerate the soil and fertilize the ground. Their busy work made a huge contribution to Shamwari’s rehabilitation, from degraded farm land into the conservation success story it is today.

Coming in at between 22 and 47 mm in size, the Addo Flightless Dung Beetle punches way above its weight class as the Hercules of the animal kingdom. The beetle has vestigial wings that cannot support it in flight.

This particular species (Circellium bacchus) evolved to be dependant for nourishment and breeding on the dung of big game, such as rhino, elephant and buffalo. When populations of these animals in the Eastern Cape were killed off in the 1800s, the Addo Flightless Dung Beetle was left extremely vulnerable as it could not fly to new habitats.

It walks from dung pat to dung pat to feed and collect the dung it needs to build dung balls. Feeding might take place at the dung site, but younger adults usually prepare a small ball and roll it away to eat in a protected location. The Addo Flightless Dung Beetle prefers the coarse dung of elephant, rhino and buffalo but will feed on dung from a variety of species. Buffalo dung is preferred for breeding.

Female beetles produce one offspring per breeding cycle, sometimes two per year. Fecundity is therefore low. When breeding, the female removes a portion of dung from the pile, pats it into a ball and rolls it from 7 to 80 metres away, depending on when she finds a suitable site. A dung beetle can roll a ball 50 times its own weight! Unlike other dung beetles, the Flightless Dung Beetle male trails his mate by a few centimetres but does not help roll the ball. When the idea

l site is decided on, the female excavates the hole and the male then positions himself on top of the dung ball and sinks down with it, the depth varying from 17 to 37 cm.

Mating then takes place and the egg is deposited. The male returns to the surface and the female remains with her brood throughout the early (larval) development. This is critical for the survival of the larva as she constantly clears away fungus that develops on the outside of the dung ball. The development time from egg to adult ranges from 120 to 140 days. The young adult then feeds for another 50 to 65 days before becoming sexually mature.

Previously, the species was widely distributed in the old Cape Province and extended north into the Transvaal. As elephants, rhinos and buffalos became regionally extinct, the beetles became restricted to the Addo National Park, where small herds of buffalo and elephant survived.

Addo dung beetles have been seen using the dung ball to cool their feet. They rest their hot feet on top of the dung ball and take a breather.

On your next visit to Founders, we would be delighted to take you on an in-depth exploration of our private 400-hectare reserve. Populated only with grazing animals, the Founders Reserve allows you to observe the inner workings of animal interaction with birds, plants and insects such as the Flightless Dung Beetle. An experience that will enrich your safari and give you a deeper understanding of the Big Five game you will encounter on the adjacent Shamwari Reserve.

Contact us to secure your booking.


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