Archaeoentomology is a strange little corner of archaeology. Its practitioners search for signs of ancient bug life—fossilized eggs, old fly pupae, the like—in dig sites to tell, for instance, whether a body lay exposed before burial. One area they’d really like to know more about is what moves into coffins with bodies once they’ve, ah, started to go to earth. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout, to be sure, but which worms?
After three and a half years of mucking around Florida cow pastures, veterinary entomologist Philip Kaufman has collected 62,320 dung beetles. That comes to about 60 beetles a day, if you’re counting. What’s the secret to his beetle-catching success? The New York Times Green Blog has got the scooper—erh, scoop:
He collected fresh dung with an ice cream scooper, then packed it into small pouches that he froze in his lab. He set up pit fall traps, or mesh-covered funnels partly buried underground that were baited with the thawed dung balls. Positioned at a slant, the mesh encouraged beetles to fall into a bit of PVC pipe from which they could not escape. After placing the traps, he would return within 24 hours to investigate the day’s catch.
Squatting around cowpats paid off: Kaufman’s research on the diversity dung beetles has just been published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. He isn’t the only one with an affinity for dung beetles though. The little critters actually do a lot of a farm’s clean-up work, eating through the dung that can quickly pile up when a single cow produces 82 lbs of manure a day. Cow farmers have been asking Kaufman for dung beetles to stock their farms.
Read more about the fascinating world of dung beetles at the Times.
Image via Flickr / mbarrison