Wednesday, 21 September 2011 15:05

Nature’s dung disturbers can make short work of excrement

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By Jamie Woodford
Southern Alberta
Who needs a pooper scooper when you can have dung beetles do it for you?

Scientists at the Lethbridge Research Centre (LRC) have discovered just how efficient Mother Nature’s recyclers are and were able to show how the swiftly the bugs work at the LRC’s open house held earlier this summer.
Dung beetles are interested in just that, dung, or poop, if you prefer.
Once they find a pile of it, they get to work burying the dung down into the depths of the soil along with the nutrients needed to replenish the earth allowing grasses to grow in quicker and more healthy.
There are several species of dung beetles in Alberta, most of which were accidentally introduced by Europeans, but two types of dung beetles in the canthon family are native to the area, and they play in important role in agriculture.
There are three types of beetle workers: dwellers, rollers and tunnellers the later two are the ones researchers are interested in.
Dwellers pretty much just live in the manure.
Rollers roll the dung into balls and store it in the ground to be used as food or a place to lay eggs, and tunnellers work to bury the dung they collect.
Having the beetles degrade dung is a much quicker process than to let it degrade naturally, said summer research student Mohammad Youssef.
“If the dung does not degrade, the grass would not grow and the cows would not actually eat out of the grass,” he said.
“(Beetles) create a better soil, a better quality and it gives the cows a better diet as well.”
Dung beetles can also help turn a profit in agriculture.
Research has shown that introducing dung beetles to the field can create an estimated $1 billion a year profit, said Youssef.
“When you think about it, each cow, let’s say, poops 10 times a day,” he began to explain. “If you have 100 cows grazing and each (poops in) 10 spots — if it’s all degraded then it makes the soil so perfect for the grass (to grow).”
Greener grass makes for happier and healthier cows, Youssef added.
“It makes for a lot of activity and it’s all good for the cows as well. They’re happy, because a cow would not actually eat where they poop. Once it’s degraded the grass will grow even more green and it’s really good for them.”
In addition to the dung beetle research, scientists included displays of tropical insects, both dead and alive, from around the world.

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