Beetling about

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“Notwithstanding their filthy trade, the dung beetles occupy a very respectable rank.” J.H Faber.

After a rather damp and dismal morning, the sun finally appeared after lunch. As F still had jobs to do around the yard (Sunday is not a day of rest for a farmer), the girls and I went for a walk with him on the farm. We headed along the cow track to the ‘Ox park’, a field that the cows had  grazed in the night before. C was making quite a bit of noise (typical toddler) so I figured the chances of seeing any wildlife was pretty low. I was wrong-as we entered the field F motioned for me to be quiet. He had spotted a fox. It scoped us out for a few seconds before disappearing into the hedge. I was quite surprised to see a fox in the middle of the day, but F says he is seeing them more and more during daylight hours. He thinks it has coincided with an increase in numbers, which has possibly forced them out to hunt and scavenge during the day.

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The ‘Ox park’. You can see our dairy herd in the background.

C was having a great time finding cow pats to splodge in. I spent most of my time watching the ground to avoid stepping in the dung, as I had JoJo tucked in her sling. Although they might seem a nuisance, these piles of dung actually provide a valuable resource for some insects. Nearly every pat had a ‘sprinkling’ of little Yellow dung flies. These flies lay their eggs in the pats, and the emerging larvae are ‘coprophagic’ (they eat the dung!) . The adult flies feed on other insects that visit the pat.

Some pats  had lots of little shiny black beetles scurrying about on them. My entomology is a bit rusty, but I think they were Water Scavenger beetles. These beetles rely on cow dung for all stages of their life cycle. They play an important role in distributing and breaking down the dung- a ‘natural’ form of fertilising! They can be affected by the use of anthelmintics (medication used to worm cattle) , so it was reassuring to see them.

The beetles were fascinating to watch. Their tunnels snaked around under the crust of the cowpat, and every so often one would emerge from a burrow, scuttle about a bit and then disappear down another hole. I got a bit messy trying to get a closer look-next time I might try and set up a dung baited pitfall trap rather than resorting to digging about by hand!!

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Water scavenger beetle disappearing into its tunnel.