Animal of the Month
Name:Sacred Scarab (A.K.A. Egyptian Beetle)
Subgenus: S. scatabeus
Species: S. sacer
Size: 0.39-.98 inches long.
Segmented body with head, thorax and large abdomen; six thin legs, the front of which have rivets and claws.
Behavior: Burrows and rolls dung into balls.
Preferred Habitat: Coastal marshes and dunes.
Range: The Mediterranean Basin, including Northern Africa. Southern Europe and parts of Asia.
Status: Not Evaluatedt Concern
Say the word "scarab" and most people immediately think of the ancient Egyptian symbols. Just what is a scarab, anyway? You might be surprised to learn that these insects, known as sacred scarabs, are in fact a type of dung beetle! Sacred scarabs are most often found in marshy and coastal environments throughout the Mediterranean Basin, including North Africa, southern Europe and parts of Asia.
Dung beetles are misunderstood creatures because they eat well dung. They intentionally seek out dung left by other animals, usually large mammals, and use their legs to roll it into a ball. The ball is then rolled into a burrow, where it is eaten. Don't let that ball of poo fool you; a dung beetle can lift 1,141 times its own weight. That's the same as a human pulling six full double-decker buses!
Eating dung may seem like a revolting practice, but scarabs and other dung beetles actually play a critical role in the ecosystem. By collecting and eating dung, this helps to spread seeds and redistribute minerals and nutrients into the soil, which helps plants grow. Who knew that such a smelly job was so important?!
After mating, a female sacred scarab will roll a ball of dung into a pear shape and lay a single egg inside it. She will then leave the egg and go off to roll more dung and lay another egg. Unlike most insects, a female sacred scarab will lay only twelve eggs in her lifetime. An egg will hatch a single larva, which will eat the dung it was born in before growing into an adult scarab.
The Ancient Egyptians noticed how sacred scarabs roll balls of dung. This reminded them of their mythology in which the god Khepri rolls the sun across the sky. They also noticed how new scarabs apparently came from balls of dung out of nowhere. As a result, sacred scarabs were connected to Khepri and seen as symbols of life and rebirth. Amulets of scarabs were made for protection in jewel-ry. Symbols of scarabs were also carved for funeral practices. To this day there are many surviving scarab amulets that have been found in Egypt!
The status of the sacred scarab is not formally evaluated. Many scarab species appear to be in stable populations. However, some scarab and other dung beetle species have experienced a decline over the last thirty years. This is due in part to habitat destruction, overuse of pesticides, collecting, and a lack of dung from large animals to eat. This is a terrible shame, for not only do dung beetles have a right to live, but their distribution of dung also helps to fertilize the land. It is im-perative that more is done to preserve these amazing creatures!
To learn more about scarabs and other dung beetles, check out the links below:
Scarab Page-Read up on the thousands of scarab species that call the
A-Z Animals "The
Egyptian Beetle: 10 Scarab Facts That Will Surprise You" - A wonderful
list of critter facts!
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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