Fossil Dung Balls

Once again, very busy, but I had to write this, just for the post title.  From a news release:

photo by Victoria Sánchez
photo by Victoria Johnson

“A new study of 30-million-year-old-fossil ‘mega-dung’ from extinct giant South American mammals, published in Palaeontology, reveals evidence of complex ecological interactions and theft of dung-beetles’ food stores by other animals….

Some 30 million years ago, the continent was home to what is known to palaeontologists as the South America Megafauna, including some truly giant extinct herbivores: bone covered armadillos the size of a small car, ground sloths 6 metres tall and elephant-sized hoofed-mammals unlike anything alive today. And of course, megafauna would have produced mega-dung.”

Yes. Mega-dung.  I love science.

The paper itself is actually about the activities of kleptoparasites, which, as you might infer from the name, is parasitism by theft. In other words, one animal steals prey (turds) from another animal (dung beetles) and uses it for its own purposes. In this case, flies and other dung beetles were the thieves; earthworms seem to have also found fertile grounds in the dung balls as well.

Oh, what are the dung balls for? You’ve probably seen the videos–the beetles harvest dung pies for a nice little food source to lay eggs on.  The narration on this video is a bit twee, but the video is very nice:

Actual Citation:

SÁNCHEZ, M., & GENISE, J. (2009). CLEPTOPARASITISM AND DETRITIVORY IN DUNG BEETLE FOSSIL BROOD BALLS FROM PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA Palaeontology, 52 (4), 837-848 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2009.00877.x

2 thoughts on “Fossil Dung Balls

Comments are closed.