Dung Beetles of Doom

This friendly looking guy is the gazelle scarab beetle. They like to eat poop and attack tack rooms.

It seems like every year we get a different plague. This year’s infestation was quite a surprise. And how it managed to infest our tack room was quite ingenious.

You see, the room where we store all the equine food, saddles, and other equipment may not look great, but it is very well sealed, so that mice and other intruders can’t come in and eat our delicious beet pulp and expensive supplements. It’s also air conditioned, so that the leather tack doesn’t get all moldy and icky.

I recently dropped some black sunflower seeds, and from a distance, they do resemble dung beetles.

So, yes, we were surprised this weekend when what we originally thought were black sunflower seeds that we’d spilled were actually a LOT of dead bugs. I uploaded a photo to iNaturalist and got back a positive identification of gazelle scarabs (Digitonthophagus gazella), also known as brown dung beetles. Sara, my horse co-owner, was proud she knew it was dung beetles. Well, she was raised on a farm and has lived on a LOT of cattle ranches. She’s seen dung beetles.

Yesterday we were just mildly curious about how all those bugs got in the sealed room. Today, when we came in to feed Fiona and the horses, we realized it was rather warm in the tack room. That’s because the air conditioner was on, but not doing anything.

Action shot! Sara uses our handy Leatherman tool to scrape the Dung Beetles of Doom out of the front of the air conditioner.

Sara climbed on the mounting block to look at the unit. EWWWW. It was full of dead and semi-dead dung beetles. She managed to get them out of there, turned the air conditioner back on, and yay, the compressor becan to compress. But the fan didn’t come on.

Sara filled a good portion of this large cup with beetles from the front of the air conditioner. Many more were in the back.

So, we went outside to look at the back. There were hundreds of bugs in there. No wonder the fan wasn’t working. So, we’ll have to work on that issue, and we know how the bugs got in.

But what’s odd is that the tack room has been set up like it is for many years. No plagues of bugs have ever come in before. We usually have a few dung beetles, but they tend to hang out, appropriately enough, on horse and cow poop.

We’re hoping that this is just one of those random over-populations triggered by a week of rain, and that it won’t happen again next year!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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