In the USA, approximately 1.4 billion tons of manure are produced annually by the 9.8 billion heads of livestock and poultry.1 Dung beetles, tiny insects that recycle animal feces, remove about 30% of the agricultural dung. The 8,000 different species of dung beetles live in all continents (except Antarctica) and serve more than agricultural environments, being found in all sorts of habitats, from farm fields to prairie grasslands to deserts. Such a creature, with such a lowly task as eating and decomposing animal scat, likely escapes our notice. But this creature of God is highly worthy of our attention because it leads us to contemplate the wisdom of God and to meditate upon the spiritual truth that God equips us for our callings in this world.

Dung beetles—perfectly fitted

Scientists generally group the thousands of species of dung beetles into three categories—rollers, dwellers, and tunnelers—based on what method they employ to remove the dung from the earth. Each type of dung beetle has its own unique characteristics. In this article we focus our attention on how the roller beetles are particularly fitted for their task.

Rollers, the most famous of the dung beetles (worshiped by the Egyptians 4,000 years ago during the time of Abraham and the other patriarchs), are equipped with three key physical characteristics that fit them to roll

Picture of beetle
rolling dung

dung. Their back legs are thin and bowed in order to wrap around a mass of dung and form it into a ball-shape that will roll easily. Their front legs are short and strong to support their weight and push the dung ball from place to place (yes, they do a “hand-stand” of sorts and push the ball while on their front legs, while their hind legs wrap around the ball and continually shape it). This work requires great strength. Dung beetles are considered to be the strongest of all insects, capable of rolling dung that is 50 times their own weight! That is equivalent to a 200-pound man pushing four mid-sized cars! Finally, their front legs also have rake or comb-like extensions to help pat bits of dung onto the ball and to help shape the dung ball as it is formed.

Because competition is intense for dung (as a food source and as a brooding source), dung beetles must act quickly when they arrive at a pile of manure. Rollers quickly form a ball of dung and rapidly roll it away from the dung pile before other dung beetles battle them for this resource. What is fascinating is that dung beetles roll the dung away in a straight-line path (not wavering to and fro), regardless of obstacles. Recent research shows that the dung beetles navigate this straight line path using cues from the location of the sun (if they are working during

Picture of beetle

the day) or from the location of the moon (as many dung beetles are nocturnal). In fact, even though dung beetles’ eyes cannot distinguish individual stars, they are able to distinguish the faint glow of large clusters of stars, such as the Milky Way. “Currently, dung beetles are the only animals we know of that use the Milky Way for reliable orientation,” says James Foster of the University of Konstanz in Germany. “They are excellent little astronomers.”2

In addition to the amazing ability to be guided in their navigation by celestial bodies, rollers (as well as dwellers and tunnelers) are equipped with a keen sense of smell, able to detect the smell of fresh scat a half mile away. Evidence of this is that dung beetles always approach dung from a direction downwind of it.

God’s wisdom displayed

When we see these physical characteristics so perfectly given to the dung beetle to complete its ordained task of cleaning up wastes from the fields, we see God’s wisdom displayed. Herman Hoeksema describes wisdom this way:

Wisdom is the marvelous virtue of the Most High that is displayed in the perfect harmony and adaptation to one another of all things, so that each creature in the whole cosmos has its own name, occupies its own place, serves its own purpose, and is perfectly adapted to serve that purpose; and so that the individual purpose of each creature is subservient to the purpose of the whole: the revelation of God’s name and the praises of his glorious virtues.3

Dung beetles—“perfectly adapted to serve [its] purpose”—reveal the wisdom of God!

Each of the dung beetle’s members is wisely formed to complement the other so that the task of cutting out the dung, fashioning it into a ball, and hastily rolling it away can be accomplished. God fitted the dung beetle with strength, with properly shaped legs to shape and roll dung, with a keen sense of smell, and with an amazing ability to navigate with cues from the Milky Way—all for the goal of efficiently and capably recycling the manure that the multitudes of land animals deposit daily. Everything in the creation harmoniously fits! From odorous chemical compounds wafting from the manure, to the celestial bodies that direct the beetles’ pathways—all creatures, from the tiniest to the greatest, are woven together in a marvelous fashion by our Almighty, most-wise God!

What folly to attribute all of this to a Big Bang or to billions of years of random evolutionary changes. What folly and sinfulness to worship this creature as the Egyptians once did in worshiping the dung beetle. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things…who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:22-25). Throughout history, sinful man has denied the Creator and has worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.

But thanks be to God for the gift of faith by which “we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). Apart from God’s grace, we also would deny Him and worship the creatures. But we no longer live in this bondage, graciously having been delivered from this! Let us, therefore, praise Jehovah for this gracious deliverance and for giving us eyes to see His wisdom so clearly displayed in the dung beetle! Praise Him for all His wondrous works!

For a lowly station

We likely overlook the work of dung beetles. Their presence in the creation is probably not even noticed, partly because it is at night that “the beasts of the forest do creep forth” (Ps. 104:20), and more likely because most of us actively avoid the smelly manure in the fields where the dung beetles labor. Regardless of whether we notice or not, and whether the task is menial or not, dung beetles have a very important task in God’s creation. There are three major benefits to the labors of the dung beetle. Without the recycling labors of the dung beetles, manure deposits (pats) would harden and accumulate, killing off the vegetation below it. An average cow drops twelve pats per day. In regions of Texas, it is estimated that dung beetles bury approximately 80% of the cow manure from the fields. Without this removal of dung, plants and animals would not be able to thrive, adversely affecting the ecosystem balance.

A study done in Tsavo National Park in Kenya demonstrated how rapidly dung beetles can eliminate a bolus of elephant manure. In the evening, scientists put out a 30-liter bait sample of elephant dung. “Clouds of small beetles swept in, landed on the dung and immediately tunneled into it. Within half an hour…the firm, malodorous, football-size boluses of dung [were transformed] into a spreading mat two or three centimeters thick and as much as two meters in diameter.”4

Secondly, the activity of dung beetles serves the important purpose of aerating and fertilizing the soil. The tunneling dung beetles dig holes into the ground and tunnels below ground in order to bury the dung and to raise their offspring. This digging and tunneling activity aerates the soil, thus loosening the soil particles and providing easy pathways for plant roots and rainwater to infiltrate the soil.

Finally, dung beetles remove parasites and greatly reduce the number of flies that breed and spread from fresh dung. Cow manure is a great breeding platform for flies; each cow pat can serve as a breeding ground so that 3,000 more flies develop in about two weeks. Besides pesky flies, there are disease-causing microorganisms in manure that also are eliminated by the dung beetles’ consumption of the manure.

Problematically, modern parasiticides (chemicals that kill parasites) that are given to livestock to protect them from ticks, fleas, and other parasites, harm the dung beetles that feed on the dung. Careless use of the parasiticides may actually have the potential inadvertently to cause an increase in fly and disease-carrying microorganism populations by harming the very dung beetles that eliminate these pests. Again we see that the creation is so intricately woven together that to harm one creature has its effects on many other creatures connected to it.

Spiritual picture of the Christian’s calling

Eating manure to eliminate it from the face of the earth is a lowly calling. Such a lowly station ought to remind us of the spiritual truth of humility and service to which we are all called. “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps. 84:10). Our natures desire that we be served. But we are called to a life of humility and service (Phil. 2)—to a life of serving others, not ourselves. Let not pride or ambition reign in our heart, but let us be humble servants. May we learn not to be envious of others who appear to have a supposedly more prestigious calling in their daily work or in the church, but humble ourselves and be content with whatever calling God has given us. All callings and stations are important in God’s church! “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor” (I Cor. 12:22-23).

Let us also never forget that it is God who calls each to his station. And where He calls, He equips! As Jehovah so wisely equips the dung beetle for its task, so He perfectly equips you for your calling. Is yours the calling to be a parent of covenant young children? When you feel overwhelmed with the high responsibility to train His covenant children in His ways, be reminded that God who has called you also equips you! Is yours the calling to serve as an elder and make judgments regarding sin, or repentance, or doctrinal distinctions? When you feel overwhelmed with the weightiness and difficulties of your labors, be reminded that God who has called you also equips you! When Moses felt unable to lead Israel (“O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue,” Exodus 4:10), God promised to equip him (“Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say,” Exodus 4:12). And so it was with Gideon (Jud. 6:14-16), and so it has been with God’s people throughout history.

Be encouraged in God’s promises that He who has begun a good work in you, will complete it! “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect [complete, equipped] in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21). “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thess. 5:24).

1 USDA data
2 using-the-milky-way-new-results.
3 Herman Hoeksema. All Glory to the Only Good God. (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2013), 253.
4 Bernard Heinrich and George A. Bartholomew. “The Ecology of the African Dung Beetle.” Scientific American. Vol. 241, No.5. (November 1979), 146-157.