Dung Beetles; Scarab Beetles

Jim Hayden
Dept. of Entomology, Cornell University

Japanese Beetle feeding on flower
Japanese Beetle feeding on flower

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The Aphodiinae includes a few thousand species of small to medium-size dung beetles, of which more than 350 species in 26 genera occur in North America (Skelley and Gordon, 42). Since the aphodiines are the most commonly encountered group of dung beetles other than the scarabaeines, the two groups should be distinguished. Aphodiines are mostly small (less than one centimeter) and dark brown to black, with a distinct "look" that generally includes parallel sides and elytra that cover the abdomen completely (see Diagnosis below). Unlike most of the Scarabaeidae, aphodiines nest directly in dung pats but do not sequester it in tunnels beneath or at a distance from the pat.

In terms of abundance and number of species, Aphodiinae dominate the dung-beetle communities in northern temperate areas, including eastern North America (Balthasar, 1963; Hanski, 1991). The genus Aphodius is a large part of the local assemblage, with fifty species in eastern North America, twelve of which are introduced (Hanski, 1991). Twenty local Aphodius species are specialists on deer dung, and several others are pasture specialists.



In contrast to scarabaeines but like most insects, aphodiines produce many offspring and invest little to no time in caring for each one. They burrow directly into dung and lay their eggs in it, so that larvae and adults may be found together in the same dung pat. There they encounter other invertebrates that may prey on or parasitize any of their life stages. These enemies are the most important in determining aphodiines' survival and fitness, rather than competition among adults for resources, as is the case with scarabaeines. Other species, especially in western North America, dwell in the nests of rodents, ants and other burrowing animals. Still others feed on decaying plants or on roots (Hanski 1991



1) Clypeus extends over mouthparts, hiding them from above; clypeus often notched or concave along front edge
2) Antennae with 9 segments, with 3-segment club
3) Bases of middle legs touching or close to each other
4) Elytra cover pygidium (end of abdomen)
5) Hind tibiae with 2 spurs at their tips
6) A small scutellum is often apparent between the pronotum and elytra





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Modified 28 Sept. 2004