The sweeping scientific and social history of the humble dung beetle
The humble and industrious dung beetle is a marvelous beast: the 6,000 species identified so far are intricately entwined with human history and scientific endeavor. These night-soil collectors of the planet have been worshipped as gods, worn as jewelry, and painted by artists. More practically, they saved Hawaii from ecological blight, and rescued Australia from plagues of flies. They fertilize soil, cleanse pastures, steer by the stars, and have a unique relationship with the African elephant (along with many other ungulates). Above all, they are the ideal subject for biological study in an evolving world.
In this sweeping history of more than 3,000 years, beginning with Ancient Egypt, scientist Marcus Byrne and writer Helen Lunn capture the diversity of dung beetles and their unique behavior patterns. Dung beetles' fortunes have followed the shifts from a world dominated by a religion that symbolically incorporated them into some of its key concepts of rebirth, to a world in which science has largely separated itself from religion and alchemy. With over 6,000 species found throughout the world, these unassuming but remarkable creatures are fundamental to some of humanity's most cherished beliefs and have been ever present in religion, art, literature, science and the environment. They are at the center of current gene research, play an important role in keeping our planet healthy, and some nocturnal dung beetles have been found to navigate by the starry skies. Outlining the development of science from the point of view of the humble dung beetle is what makes this charming story of immense interest to general readers and entomologists alike.