Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Turning your back

with 29 comments

Dung Beetle Rolling Dung 1925

Chances are you’d like to turn your back on the subject of dung beetles. This one hadn’t turned its back on its load of dung, but it had turned itself upside down and was rolling its precious cargo backwards. Even in that position the beetle managed to go so fast that I had trouble photographing it, and although most of the pictures I took didn’t turn out well this one is okay enough to show you.

And speaking of turning one’s back, last week I interrupted the series of pictures from the productive April 27th field trip to Bastrop State Park in order to show you some more-recent developments, but today and for the next week I’m going back to that outing.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2014 at 6:02 AM

29 Responses

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  1. Wow, I must be improving with my speed. I think I actually got in the first like. Or did I? Probably not.


    June 25, 2014 at 6:10 AM

    • Do the little “like” avatars line up in order of time from right to left? Regardless, I appreciate your enthusiasm from the Antipodes. My posts must arrive at the end of your calendar day there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 25, 2014 at 7:22 AM

      • I have no idea but, usually if I wait even 10 seconds to get to your post, you have about 20 likes already. People’s like speed is phenomenal. 🙂


        June 25, 2014 at 8:19 AM

  2. Wow, Wiki says the dung beetles navigate and orient themselves using the Milky Way!


    June 25, 2014 at 6:15 AM

  3. Thank goodness for dung beetles and their ilk. The dung producers just leave the stuff lying around for someone else to deal with……much like some of my neighbors do when walking their dogs.
    Some subjects are way too busy for our photography. Gotta keep movin’.

    Steve Gingold

    June 25, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    • Yes, these critters perform a service, no doubt about it. Austin has a clean-up-after-your-dog ordinance, which most dog owners follow, but some of those humans aren’t as well trained as the dung beetles.

      As a photographer you appreciate my struggle to photograph a small subject moving fast. I’m grateful to have gotten one acceptable picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 25, 2014 at 7:31 AM

      • We have a leash law but no clean up ordinance. Most follow the rule but a few don’t. Fortunately, I am not afeared of dogs and welcome them in the town conservation areas but many don’t appreciate being charged by a loose large dog…..or stepping in what was left behind.

        Steve Gingold

        June 25, 2014 at 7:36 AM

        • I’ve had the experience of sitting on the ground taking pictures of a plant and looking up to see an off-leash dog bearing down on me. No fun, nor is having a dog slobber over my camera bag.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 25, 2014 at 7:42 AM

  4. Fascinating organisms taking good advantage of a valuable nutrient source. Think about it … if it weren’t for Dung Beetles, Fungi, and the Bacteria, we’d all be wait-deep in manure. I suppose the moral of the story is, next time you see a dung beetle, give a word of thanks. I hate to push the appreciation any further, but I’m wondering what organism produces such ‘regular’ pellets? D

    Pairodox Farm

    June 25, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    • I know almost nothing about this subject, D., but my impression is that the regularity is at least partly, and maybe mostly, a consequence of the rolling.

      You make a good point about the cleaning-up debt we owe to those little (and microscopic) organisms.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 25, 2014 at 7:37 AM

  5. One of my favorite critters. I even wrote a post about them. http://wp.me/p3iF5r-6p
    Amazing what they do.

    Jim in IA

    June 25, 2014 at 7:12 AM

  6. That is pretty amazing, I have actually never seen a dung beetle before…Great photo.

  7. I’m impressed at how fast the beetle could move a pile of dung bigger than itself. Nature’s dustbin men (and women).

    Emily Heath

    June 26, 2014 at 1:19 AM

  8. A happy roller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iojBkKQMF8 (if the link isn’t working, try bug wisdom dung beetle on you tube). And now that I’m watching it again, it appears the beetle might be walking backwards.

    Mad Queen Linda

    June 26, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    • A happy roller indeed, and definitely pushing backwards: I wonder if that’s the way they all do it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 26, 2014 at 7:29 AM

  9. It’s a fact that these little guys move fast. When I saw my first one, about a year ago, it was the movement that caught my eye, as well as the fact that the ball it was rolling was twice its size.

    Your photo has a couple of amusing details, including the red ant that may or may not be paying attention to what’s rolling its way, and the fact that the beetle’s head is covered with the same grains of sand or dirt that covers the ball. Apparently, its decision to turn around was fairly recent.

    Given the discussion about dogs and droppings, I have to mention the Basenji, LIberian village dog extraordinaire. Not only is it a barkless dog, and a terrific ratter, it shares the dung beetle’s inclination to keep its surroundings clean. There are a lot of little kids running around villages without diapers, and yet there’s no waste lying around. You can thank the Basenjji.

    What most caught me was the Milky Way-dung beetle connection. I just couldn’t get over that when I read this and Jim’s post. Something kept niggling at my mind, and finally, in the middle of the night, it came to me. It’s this little section from Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.”

    Garlic and sapphires in the mud
    Clot the bedded axle-tree.
    The trilling wire in the blood
    Sings below inveterate scars
    Appeasing long forgotten wars.
    The dance along the artery
    The circulation of the lymph
    Are figured in the drift of stars
    Ascend to summer in the tree
    We move above the moving tree
    In light upon the figured leaf
    And hear upon the sodden floor
    Below, the boarhound and the boar
    Pursue their pattern as before
    But reconciled among the stars.


    June 26, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    • I wondered if anyone would comment on the red ant, and now you have. I don’t know if I saw it at the time because I was so intent on trying to get a decent picture of the beetle, nor do I know if it got run over by the steamroller that the beetle and dung together formed. Even if it did, ants are highly resilient, so I doubt any harm would have come to this one.

      I know little about dogs but in the 1970s I knew someone in Austin who had a Basenji, so I’m aware of that breed, although I hadn’t heard about its cleaning-up habits. I also hadn’t come across those verses from Eliot. I’ll trade you: here’s a passage (which you may have heard me quote before) that also mentions stars:

      On a baptisé les étoiles sans penser
      qu’elles n’avaient pas besoin de nom, et les nombres,
      qui prouvent que les belles comètes dans l’ombre
      passeront, ne les forceront pas à passer.

      —Francis Jammes

      [We’ve baptized the stars without thinking
      That they didn’t need a name, and numbers,
      Which prove that lovely comets will pass on
      Into the shadows, won’t make them pass on.]

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 26, 2014 at 8:13 AM

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