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The humble dumbledor: Trypocopris dung beetles

Dung beetle (Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans). Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

There are said to be about 460 species of dung beetles in Europe (Byk  & Piętka, 2018), with about 60 of them occurring in the UK. They carry out the important job of breaking down and degrading dung pats and they also boost the productivity of a pasture by enhancing the activity of soil microorganisms. Imagine what life would be like without these little waste disposers. They are also very beautiful!

Dung beetle (Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans) showing mouthparts. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

One group of dung beetles which are particularly shiny and colourful, are the Trypocopris dor beetles, often called dumbledores (or dumble dor) in English. In fact, dumbledore is an Old English word for any insect that flies with a loud humming noise. It is also used for bumblebees, and of course, has been immortalised as a fictional character in J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series.

Dung beetle (Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans) in horse dung. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

The Palaearctic genus Trypocopris (Geotrupidae) comprises six medium-sized coprophagous species. Three species, Trypocopris fulgidus, T. amedei and T. inermis are mostly distributed in eastern Europe into Asia, including, Greece,  Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and the Caucasus. Another three species, T. vernalis (below), T. pyrenaeus (above and below) and T. alpinus occur mostly in western Europe. Each species has a number of subspecies, although some of those listed on various websites may be synonyms. [There is another species listed under Trypocopris (called T. zaitzevi) but I have not managed to find out anything about it.]

Trypocopris vernalis. Photo by AfroBrazilian / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

There are two species in the UK: the Heath Dumble Dor (Trypocopris pyrenaeus) and the Spring Dumble Dor (T. vernalis). Our British varieties are for the most part, slightly darker than some of the other subspecies I think (see below), although I must confess that I have never seen them in this country. Both species are listed as Nationally Scarce by Natural England (Lane & Mann, 2016) and are more common in some other countries, like France and Spain.

Trypocopris pyrenaeus from Lyndhurst, New Forest, Hants (Photo by gailhampshire Flickr CC)

Trypocopris pyrenaeus and T. vernalis can be told apart by how many dimples they have! The pronotum is smooth and shiny in T. pyrenaeus (above and below), with only a few tiny punctures; whereas the pronotum is distinctly punctured in T. vernalis (previous above) .

Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans from Spain. Pronotum finely and diffusely punctured, appearing almost smooth. Elytra smooth. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

The species which I am most familiar with is Trypocopris pyrenaeus, which is present in Andorra, the British Islands, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain. However, it appears to be most abundant in NW Spain, northern Portugal and Italy, see here. In France, it associated with montane areas, including the Pyrénées-Orientales: see here. There are at least three subspecies in Trypocopris (Trypocopris) pyrenaeus (Charpentier, 1825):

Trypocopris vernalis (Linnaeus, 1758) (Image by Krzysztof Niewolny from Pixabay)

The subspecies or variety which occurs in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) is also called: Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans, i.e. coruscans aberration Chevrolat (Baraud, 1977), which is the name I have used here.

Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans on lichen. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

There are three types of dung beetles: Rollers, Tunnellers  and Dwellers. Rollers – like the iconic African scarabs – make a ball of dung and roll it away. Most dung beetles in northern Europe, including Britain, are tunnelers and dwellers. Tunnelers dig down and bury dung below ground, where they lay their eggs in special chambers. Dwellers generally spend their entire life in dung pats.

Three types of dung beetles (www.nswfarmers.org.au)

Trypocopris pyrenaeus (Charpentier, 1825) is a so-called tunneler species, which buries brood balls in vertical chambers in close proximity to the original deposition site (Nervo et al., 2014). However, this species is also telephagic, which means that it also rolls some of the dung, and subsequently buries it, quite far from the original dung pat (Zunino & Palestrini, 1986). In other words. it is a ‘telephagic tunneller’ and repeatedly transports fragments of dung over the ground for many metres before eventually burying it (below). They adopt the characteristic posture of dung beetle rollers!

Dung beetle (Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans) in dung transportation mode. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

Adults not only feed on dung, but they also remove and bury it, so they are doing a very useful ecosystem service. If it remains in situ, an area up to 12 times larger than the dung pad itself would remain ungrazed by livestock for several months, even up to a year (Nervo et al., 2014).

Dung beetle (Trypocopris pyrenaeus var. coruscans) on marble. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

Many of these Trypocopris species, such as T. pyrenaeus, are polymorphic in colouration (see below), which may be an adaptation to enable them to adjust to changing environments (Martín-Piera et al., 1992).

Trypocopris pyrenaeus drawer illustrating variability (Spain, 2015) http://www.insecte.org

Many dung beetles make noises (stridulation) when distressed (see video recording here) or when communicating with the opposite sex! The stridulatory organ in Trypocopris species, is a smoothed keel-shaped structure, which located on the meta-coxa at the top of the hind legs. This functions a bit like a file, scraping against another structure, called the plectrum, found on the coxal cavity of the abdomen (Carisio et al., 2004a). Not easy to see on a living specimen, but I have indicated the approximate location of the sound-producing organ in the following photo. N.B. The beetle was alive, but pretending to be dead (thanatosis) after I had flipped it over! They turn themselves over and wander off after about a minute or so in this position!

(Trypocopris  pyrenaeus var. coruscans) turned upside down. Galicia, Spain. Photo by Raymond JC Cannon

Stridulation may be used to identify potential partners when several individuals of different species are aggregated in a dung pat.

Trypocopris vernalis (Linné, 1758)(Photo by Udo Schmidt from Deutschland / CC BY-SA). https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

References

Baraud, J. (1977) Coleopteres Scarabaeoidea. Faune de l’Europe occidentale. Nouv. Rev. Entomol. 7 (Suppl.) 4, 1–352.

Byk, A., & Piętka, J. (2018). Dung beetles and their role in the nature. Edukacja Biologiczna i Środowiskowa1, 17-26.

Carisio, L., Palestrini, C., & Rolando, A. (2004a). Stridulation variability and morphology: an examination in dung beetles of the genus Trypocopris (Coleoptera, Geotrupidae). Population Ecology46(1), 27-37.

Carisio, L., Cervella, P., Palestrini, C., DelPero, M., & Rolando, A. (2004b). Biogeographical patterns of genetic differentiation in dung beetles of the genus Trypocopris (Coleoptera, Geotrupidae) inferred from mtDNA and AFLP analyses. Journal of Biogeography31(7), 1149-1162.

Lane, S. A. & Mann, D. J. (2016). A review of the status of the beetles of Great Britain: The stag beetles, dor beetles, dung beetles, chafers and their allies-Lucanidae, Geotrupidae, Trogidae and Scarabaeidae. Natural England.

Martín-Piera, F., Veiga, C. M., & Lobo, J. M. (1992). Ecology and biogeography of dung-beetle communities (Coleoptera, Scarabaeoidea) in an Iberian mountain range. Journal of Biogeography, 677-691.

Nadeau, P., Thibault, M., Horgan, F. G., Michaud, J. P., Gandiaga, F., Comeau, C., & Moreau, G. (2015). Decaying matters: Coleoptera involved in heterotrophic systems. Beetles: Biodiversity, Ecology and Role in the Environment, 123-174.

Nervo, B., Tocco, C., Caprio, E., Palestrini, C., & Rolando, A. (2014). The effects of body mass on dung removal efficiency in dung beetles. PLoS One9(9).

Niogret, J., Felix, A. E., Nicot, A., & Lumaret, J. P. (2019). Chemosystematics Using Cuticular Compounds: A Powerful Tool to Separate Species in Mediterranean Dung Beetles (Coleoptera: Geotrupidae). Journal of Insect Science19(2), 18.

Zunino, M., & Palestrini, C. (1986). El comportamiento telefágico de Trypocopris pyrenaeus (Charp.) adulto (Coleoptera, Scarabaeoidea: Geotrupidae). Graellsia42, 205-216.

Links

http://www.hmyzfoto.cz/gscar.geo.html#try

https://www.agricology.co.uk/field/blog/dung-beetles-keeping-pasture-healthy-and-livestock-happy

https://www.galerie-insecte.org/galerie/trypocopris_pyrenaeus.html

https://www.ukbeetles.co.uk/trypocopris-pyrenaeus

https://inpn.mnhn.fr/espece/cd_nom/200629?lg=en

https://floradegalicia.wordpress.com/2018/06/25/trypocopris-pyrenaeus/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/63075200@N07/sets/72157634837573536/with/9336827290/

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/429233-Trypocopris-pyrenaeus/browse_photos

https://www.nswfarmers.org.au/NSWFA/Posts/The_Farmer/Innovation/How_dung_beetles_are_helping_farmers.aspx

rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

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