Finding and Indentifying Dung Beetles

Identifying dung beetles to species can be very difficult and often requires microscopy and an expert to do so.

When searching for dung beetles, the first thing you need is dung. You can perform a manual search by simply pulling apart dung and seeing what emerges, however there are other methods which are more effective for sampling dung beetles. When sampling dung, there are many other invertebrates you may come across. See what else you can find in dung

Disclaimer: When surveying for dung beetles, we strongly advise that you wear gloves, and wash your hands and any equipment you use, to reduce the risk of spreading diseases between farms.

The colour of dung beetles can be very variable and may be an unreliable feature to use for identification. As a starting point, we would recommend that you categorise any dung beetles you find to genus or family (Aphodiines, Onthophagus and Geotrupidae). Firstly, you should separate dung beetles by size, the largest individuals (over around 13mm) will only be Geotrupidae. The next feature you should look at is the general shape, with Onthophagus beetles generally more rounded, and Aphodiines beetles tending to be longer and pill-shaped (see figure below).

Aphodiines

44 species
Approx. 3-13mm in length

Onthophagus

8 species
Approx. 4-11mm in length

Geotrupidae

8 species
Approx. 8-26mm in length

Figure. General representation of the three groups of dung beetles with body shape for Onthophagus and Aphodiines illustrated above.

Finding Geotrupidae

Given that the majority of Aphodiine beetles are dwellers, and Onthophagus or Geotrupidae beetles are tunnellers, simply identifying dung beetles to these three families can provide very useful information

Finding dung beetles

To find out what types of dung beetles you have, we recommend that you undertake some bucket/water sampling of dung pats. This process involves collecting dung and placing it in water. Any dung beetles within the pat will float to the top. You can then remove them from the water and take photographs to assist with identification. We recommend releasing anything that you catch and only doing this to a few samples to minimise any substantial losses to invertebrates. You can undertake this surveying every few months to monitor changes to abundance or diversity over time.

Dry and floatation sampling

Further information

If you would like to know what species you have, we would encourage you to send in your records to iRecord where they can verify or correct your identifications.

The British Scarabs website is a good resource for identifying dung beetles, with some useful guides to help narrow down what you may have.

As with identifying any invertebrates, getting to know the anatomy is crucial. There are a number of useful books which can help you get started with identifying dung beetles (Jessop 1986)