Doing It with Dung Project Report December 2022

Dung beetle and its larvae

Bubus Bubalus

It has certainly been a challenging, confusing and somewhat disappointing year for our breeding program. Those who received bubalus in August 2021 have not reported any hatchings at all. In light of this, I recently wrote to Greg Dalton, the breeder and supplier of our beetles, to ask whether we should continue placing a fresh dung pat in to see if any beetles emerge.

He suggests we still put 1 kg of fresh dung fortnightly until the end December. Make sure dung has been stored 3 days before putting it out as at this time of year the small summer beetles will very quickly find their way to fresh dung pats and these will hopefully have drowned after 3 days. Better still collect fresh dung early before the sun is up and the beetles are awake.

Grass is growing like crazy and we still need to keep this down in the tents so we can observe any beetle activity.

Those who received bubalus this spring are reporting that they are still consuming dung and most people are on to the second lap of their tents. Last year we found dead beetles in the tent towards the end of December and that dung burial ceased in early January. But who would know this year? It would be good if you could please take note and record when this happens. Beetles will then have laid their eggs which hopefully will hatch early next spring. Thank you to all who have been part of this breeding program. Hopefully you are willing to hang in there for another year in the hope that the delayed hatching of bubalus may result in a bumper year next spring. If you do not want to continue and have tents you would like to return please let me know and we can arrange to pick these up.

Onthophagus Vacca (image by: Mid Lachlan Landcare)

Onthophagus Vacca

Those who received vacca in January 2022 have had very mixed hatchings this spring.However my vacca started hatching yesterday on the 12th December. This hatching is part of the vacca lifecycle and these F1 beetles are the result of the breeding process. These newly hatched beetles will only feed, not breed, and then remain in the ground until re-emerging next spring so feed them up well.Luckily I had just cut the grass and put fresh dung in the tent but was not expecting any action for a couple of weeks as last year they did not hatch till early January.

Greg Dalton from Creation Care has made the following suggestions regarding newly hatched beetles.

  1. Catch,count and transfer to another tent (more work but better data)
  2. Feed in the same tent and wait till spring 2023 to release. (Less work and less information
    but still gets the Beatles through till spring 2023.)

Doing It with Dung Project Report October 2022

Anita Reynolds releasing her Bubus bubalus

On 28th September we received six packages of 140 Bubus bubalus and 2 lots of 1000 vacca from Creation Care , South. Australia. These were delivered to our new breeders who have housed them in their “Farmer Nurseries” where they will be fed dung until they have bred and buried eggs.

The bubalus generally feed until early January and then die. Hopefully the next generation will hatch next Spring and will have multiplied to numbers big enough for a paddock release. However, as we have seen this year, Mother Nature still has the upper hand and possibly because of the unseasonably cold wet winter/spring we have had no beetles hatch at all yet this spring. Even Greg Dalton has had very limited hatchings and has not been able to supply all the beetles we had ordered. He says in this case the beetles may hatch a year later after a 2 year diapause (beetle hibernation).

The 2 lots of vacca are being fed for about a month in enclosures to ensure egg burial then they will be paddock released with plenty of dung nearby so they remain in an area close by.

Due to the lack of new beetles available and the poor hatching this season we are trying to get an extension for our project so that we can get more beetles next spring.

Darren Grigg has completed the video he started at the Greg Dalton Workshop with footage of the newly arrived beetles being delivered to their new homes. This will soon be posted on the Mitta Valley Landcare website.

Karen Maroney organized for us to present a Webinar on dung beetles to a group called “The Rural Woman” and this too will soon be posted on the website.

Doing it with Dung Program Report 2022-23

Mitta Valley Landcare received a grant through the Federally funded National Landcare Program – “Smart Farms Small Grants” Round 4 in 2022. This has enabled us to continue trying to establish two spring active dung beetles in the Mitta 2 Murray Landcare Network region. If successful, we would achieve our aim of having year round dung burial.

The two new species that CSIRO have imported from Europe are only available in limited numbers and so a system of “Farmer Nurseries” is being trialed. There is 22 participants in the program, each has been given a small number of beetles with a breeding tent and instructions on their care. It is hoped that the beetles will reproduce in sufficient numbers to enable a paddock release with a greater chance of survival and establishment.

It is now a year since our first beetles arrived and we are excitedly waiting for the spring hatching to start. Participants will trap, count and transfer beetles to a second tent so that we will know how successful the breeding program has been.

Our beetles come from a breeder in South Australia, Greg Dalton of Creative Care. Greg visited us on 30th June and checked the sites of new breeders who will receive their first beetles this spring.

On July 1st he gave a workshop at Eskdale Hall followed by lunch and an inspection of existing tents at Judy and Alec Cardwell’s place. The 27 people who attended were given some invaluable information on both the importance of dung beetles in agriculture and the best methods of breeding them.

This year we will have 22 breeders and we can only hope all their efforts will be well rewarded.

Dung Beetles in The Mitta Valley

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

dung beetle vacca F1 170820

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:

Written by Judy Cardwell 16.1.21

Mitta Valley Landcare Dung Beetle

Project Manager

ph. 0400014074