What Do Dung Beetles Eat?

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 29, 2022
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Key Points

  • Yes, they do eat dung, but they also dine on all sorts of other items, like other insects, fallen leaves, fruit and even fungi.
  • Dung beetles take advantage of remaining nutrients in poop that are not absorbed fully via digestion by animals.
  • The remaining treasure haul for the dung beetle is finding residual amounts of water in dung. Everything a growing beetle needs!

When you hear the word dung beetle you think of one thing… Dung! Dung beetles are famous for rolling up balls of feces and their incredible strength. For example, did you know that some dung beetles can bury 250 times their own weight in just a single night?

Even more impressively, dung beetles can carry 1,1141 times their own weight! That’s like a 200 pound man carrying 228,400 pounds, or the size of a small blue whale!

Yet, with more than 5,000 types of dung beetles they’re incredibly diverse. Let’s dive into more details about their deits to discover whether dung beeetles just eat dung, or whether their diets include more than their name would lead you to believe!

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What Foods Do Dung Beetles Eat?

What Do Dung Beetles Eat

The dung beetle eats vegetative matter that’s left in the feces of herbivorous animals. They are predominantly scavengers with occasional carnivorous tendencies.

While some specifically eat dung, others also eat leaves, fungus, rotten fruit, and other insects.

Their interaction with dung doesn’t stop at the feast. You may have heard or seen before, they roll the dung into little spheres, or balls.

Why would they do such a thing? Dung beetles utilize the dung for reproduction, and in a way protection. They even literally chill on it.

These beetles are divided into three different styles. Some will roll, others will tunnel, and let’s not forget the dwellers; they live right in the dung.

Believe it or not, but the dung beetle, or scarab, is a fascinating family of insects found everywhere in the world except Antarctica.

Let’s take a deeper look at the diet and life of this beetle.

Do Dung Beetles Eat Poo?

Dung Beetle on dung, close-up.

Dung beetles will roll feces up, put them in tunnels, and even burrow in feces.

©Michael Potter11/Shutterstock.com

Yes, Dung beetles actually do eat the feces of other animals. As you’ll learn though, it’s not quite that simple.

There’s even a word for types of insects that eat dung, “coprophagous.” This word means the beetles eat the feces of other animals.

Why Do Dung Beetles Eat Poo?

When most animals eat, the food doesn’t fully digest into a pure liquid form. Tiny bits of whatever the animal eats remain in its feces.

These tiny bits of food, vegetative or other, are what the Dung Beetle really wants. Not the poo itself so much.

Not Just Any Poo Will Do For Dung Beetles

Dung Beetle Close Up

Dung beetles live in almost every habitat. Pictured above, a close-up of the dor beetle.


There are some types of feces that the Dung Beetle completely ignores. This is largely due to the diet of the animals.

The dung beetle seeks feces from animals that are herbivores because they pass vegetative material. Animals that eat meat pass it into their feces. The meat left in the feces doesn’t provide any value to the Dung beetles.

Animal feces also contain small amounts of water; this helps the beetles survive. Adults eat liquidized feces while the larvae eat solid dung. Moist feces are also easier to locate due to odor.

There is a recent study that suggests dung beetles may prefer omnivore poo the most of all. This is due to the fact that the meat left in the feces makes it the easiest to smell.

Now, some species of Dung beetles aren’t connoisseurs of feces. Some of them actually eat other insects including ants and millipedes. The species that aren’t as concerned with a dung diet still utilize dung, mostly for reproduction.

What Does Dung Beetle Larva Eat?

What Do Dung Beetles Eat - Dung Beetle Larva

Dung beetles are often born in balls of feces!

©Sakdinon Kadchiangsaen/Shutterstock.com

Young dung beetles in the larva stage eat solid dung. Not only do they eat it, but they also live and grow inside of it. The mother creates a sort of poo cocoon for them (see above!).

As touched on earlier dung plays more of a role in the beetles’ lives than simply being a food source. Dung is also used in the reproductive cycle. Part of the reason why is because it provides food and protection for the larva.

The females of many species lay eggs in dung. Some even make specialized cases out of dung for each egg. This protects and insulates the egg and provides a food source for the larva the moment they hatch.

They also stock up their nests with dung so the larva will have plenty of food while growing. Dung is usually sought out and brought back, sometimes rolled, to the nest for this purpose.

Most Dung beetles share the responsibilities of raising the larva. This includes collecting and providing dung for food.

How Dung Beetles Help Humans

Believe it or not, these poo-eating bugs are actually beneficial to us humans! All of their activity with: eating, moving, rolling, and burying dung improves soil conditions for agriculture. Dung beetles have even been used to help soil rehabilitation.

It doesn’t stop there. Dung beetles also help spread seeds of plants. The seeds are ingested by the animals and passed into their feces. When the beetles move the dung around the seeds get moved as well and improve the distribution of plant life.

The cattle industry has used dung beetles to save money too. Instead of spending money to clean up the cow poo, Dung beetles were used to essentially eat and remove it. Waste removal can cost a lot of money, and utilizing these little insects pays off in the long haul. Who knew?

The dung deetles not only saved money for the cattle industry (3.8M annually), they also improved the fertility and quality of some pastures. In essence, they help clean the ground from unwanted elements that would otherwise potentially cause issues for the cows.

Another benefit is the reduction of bacteria and flies in and around the cattle. This improves their overall health and living conditions, and because of this it raises the overall quality of milk products and beef products. Don’t forget to thank the dung beetle when you sit down to have your next ribeye steak!

All Dung Beetles Aren’t the Same

There are many types of dung beetles band they have different behavior. Some of them are heavily focused on rolling dung, others like to burrow under it and some like to get right inside of it. They all in some way have a relationship with dung.

As you’ve seen, they use dung in many ways: food, protection, and shelter. Some of them even climb on top of their dung balls to cool off.

Many species are mobile and move dung around either rolling or carrying. Some species find large piles of dung and move in. Effectively making it their home.

The widespread nature of dung beetles means they come on a ton of different shapes, colors and sizes as well.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Potter11/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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