Although there are some native Australian dung beetles they are adapted to feeding on the dry pellets of marsupials. In consequence, they have little impact on the dispersal of cattle dung. Unburied cattle dung fouls up pastures, locks up nutrients and serves as a breeding ground for flies.
THE BENEFITS OF DUNG BEETLES
- Increased soil fertility by returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil
- Nutrients are then available to soil micro-organisms
- Increased soil aeration by creating tunnels into the soil both when burying dung and on emergence of new beetles
- Increased water infiltration into the soil
- Reduced pasture fouling
- Reduced water contamination and algal blooms
- Reduced nutrient run off into dams, streams and waterways
- Reduced bush fly numbers – rapid burial of dung pads removes the fly breeding habitat
- Reduced parasite loads by interrupting the life cycle of some internal parasites
- Carbon sequestration
Between 1968-1992 CSIRO imported and released 43 species of dung beetles from Africa, Europe and Asia.
Over 20 years ago, summer active dung beetles were introduced into the Mitta Valley by our Landcare Group. We have all seen what a remarkable job these little beetles do, but once the warm weather ends so does their activity.
In a valley like ours with both dairying and beef there is a lot dung and a need was seen to introduce winter active dung beetles.
With government funding and enthusiasm from the very active Lucyvale Better Beef Group, Belinda Pearce from Kiewa Valley Landcare, was employed to promote and distribute winter active beetles to Landcare Groups who were interested. She also compiled an extremely informative Resource Package and conducted workshops on dung beetles HERE.
The Mitta Valley Landcare Group was lucky enough to be accepted into the “Do it with Dung” program in 2008. The original 8 participants in our valley, spread between Noorongong and Granite Flat, had to commit to 12 months of fortnightly trapping and reporting to Belinda. At the end of this time we each qualified to get a colony (about1000 beetles) of both Bubus bison and Geotrupes spiniger.
In 2011, following a successful application for Federal funding, the Mitta Valley Landcare was able to distribute another colony of Bubus bison to the original 8 plus a further 10 landholders spread throughout the valley. 2018 marked the 9th year since the release of the first winter active beetles and we conducted a monitoring trial to see how well the beetles had bred and spread.
16 people signed up and although there was a waning of participation, results have certainly indicated that Bubus bison has really established well in the Mitta Valley. What is even more pleasing is the length of time they are working – from March – November (9 months) with peak activity from May to September. This does tend to vary from year to year and certainly more comprehensive monitoring for longer periods needs to be done for more accurate records. It is difficult to go by trapping alone as soil casts in the field are really more indicative of the numbers of dung beetles working Onthophagus spiniger does not seem so prolific but is certainly doing well in some areas. It was only released on 8 and not 15 properties as was B. bison which will account for its slower spread. In 2018 the first spiniger was trapped on 9.12.18 and they are still active in September 2019 (9 months). So it was very surprising to find that both these beetles have been working well into Spring.
However we still feel there is a need for a beetle that will that will give more coverage, particularly in early Spring. In 2017 the Mitta Valley was selected by Bernard Doube as the only site for release of Onthophagus vacca in Victoria. Unfortunately we only had enough money to purchase 1400 beetles. 1000 beetles were released on John Paterson’s property in Noorongong. In order to breed extra beetles 3 people shared 400 beetles and raised them in tents. Only John was successful and it remains a mystery as to why the other 2 were unsuccessful. However we know that raising dung beetles is not an easy task and many commercial breeders have had their failures.
In September 2019 Bernard Doube personally delivered 1250 O.vacca beetles (all we could afford) and we had a very well attended field day at Judy and Alec Cardwell’s where we learnt more about the benefits of dung beetles, even mentioning carbon sequestration, which is growing in recognition. Bernard emphasised the importance of caring for our beetles, particularly in the early stages of establishment. Use of safe drenches and the minimisation of insecticide spray on pastures is important. The use of faecal egg counting to test whether the whole herd actually needs drenching would not only save the farmer a lot of money but reduce the risk to dung beetles who in the long run will provide far more benefit to the health of the soil. Unfortunately there is not a lot of reliable information as to which chemicals are safe and this is certainly an area that needs attention. All these new O.vacca beetles will be tent reared. Judy Cardwell has the majority and Doris and Peter Razeng have 80.
We are collaborating with the Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers (DBEE) who are based at CSU in Wagga.
- On 12.2.20 Robert and Lou Bethune received 420 O.vacca from DBEE and these are in special boxes on their farm at Callaghan Creek.
- On 20.12.20 Irene Lewis at Dartmouth received 1010 O.vacca which came from Greg Dalton of Creation Care in South Australia.
By raising these beetles in different locations and with different carers we hope to both spread them further and learn where they are most suitable.
We have, through our Landcare Facilitator, Simon Feillafe, applied for more funding and if this becomes available we hope to also trial another Spring active dung beetle called Bubus bubalus.
If you want more information on dung beetles here are some good sites:
- Dung beetle resource package produced by Kiewa Valley and Lucyvale Landcare Groups
- “Underground Army- Enriching Soil” Locally produced video by Belinda Pearce and Chips Boucher
Written by Judy Cardwell 16.1.21
Mitta Valley Landcare Dung Beetle