My wife Sandy, also a lover of big science words, passed along this month’s feature. Fimicolous is an adjective formed from Latin roots that mean “to inhabit dung” and is used to describe organisms that live in, on, and with animal waste. As animal keepers we spend a lot of time dealing with poop and you might be amazed at all the living things that utilize poop.
Two dung beetles battle for ownership of a dung ball
Perhaps most famous are the dung beetles, a group of scarab beetles that use animal waste as a food source and a brooding chamber for larva. We frequently find dung beetles in the Farmyard in piles of poop produced by Max the steer. Keeper Kent loves to radio the butterfly house staff to tell them to come pick up new beetles for their collection! The actions of dung beetles help break up piles of waste and speeds their decomposition into nutrients.
The folks at NC State’s Cooperative Extension Service produced this great diagram(click on it to enlarge) that shows how different types of dung beetles use a cow patty. I especially liked that they included a “crust” layer, it shows a true understanding of poop! In column I on the left you see burrowers living under the poop. In column II another species makes shallow burrows. Column III on the right side shows a “rolling” species that takes a ball of dung and rolls it away to use it elsewhere.
Cow patty as habitat for dung beetles.
Another big fan of animal poop is a group of insects commonly called blow flies (or bottle flies). The adults in this group mostly feed on nectar and pollen but there eggs are usually laid in animal waste or on rotting dead animals. The larva hatch from the eggs and develop while utilizing the dung or dead tissue as a food source
Just the other day I was surprised to see a honey bees feeding on a particularly tasty pile of bear poop. Our bears eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and some of that food makes it through the bear without being fully digested. Although, it seems gross to us, uneaten food is not usually left behind in nature and many species have evolved to take advantage of this food source.