What Jim has learned today

I learned about an individual with a very, very impressive résumé. Even though born to very humble circumstances, with no education other than what life itself offers, this individual’s work and life has consistently contributed to the wellbeing of others. He has built countless homes and provided food for countless young-uns, worked tirelessly not only to protect but to improve our environment, spent a lifetime fighting disease, labored to enhance agricultural production, is an expert at celestial navigation and exhibited lifelong loyalty to his spouse. His name is Mr. Scarabaeus Satyrus … the dung beetle.

I started thinking about bugs a couple of weeks ago when my wife and I were in the Golden Land Asian Grocery Store downtown; a cool place worthy of elementary school field trips. She likes to go there and buy her dried tuna flakes, besan, curry, ginger root and bitter melon. You know, all the usual stuff. While she is comparing price and count of different brands of frozen maida flour sheets for her samosas, something catches my eye. It was a package of four frozen Lethocerus Indicus for only $3.90 … the Giant Asian Water bug. These huge bugs are fried and are reported to taste like sweet shrimp, scallops or crab meat. Even though I considered it research for this column, my wife wouldn’t let me buy any.

Dung beetles live, breathe and eat … poo. They are by nature connoisseurs. They prefer the bouquet and the nutty, oaky flavor of the poo of herbivores like that of cows and horses but will tolerate other vintages of poo if need be. A male and female dung beetle will work together digging tunnels up to eighteen inches deep. Then they go out and search for fresh poo which they form into balls about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. They, and I have seen this, roll these balls back to their tunnels using their hind legs. Then they feed off theses balls, lay their eggs inside of them and crawl inside of them in order to cool off on hot days. They are guided from the poo pile back to their tunnels by the sun, moon and stars. It has been observed that in one 24-hour period, dung beetles can clean one acre of pasture of over a ton of poo. The tunnels they dig can increase ground water absorption by 129 percent reducing flooding and drought while bringing up water tables. By removing all that poo from the pasture they control disease carrying parasites and sow poo born seeds which were eaten by the cows, facilitating reforestation of the pasture … and … dung beetles are edible. This bug should receive a Noble Prize.

Iowa has no state bug and dung beetles don’t do well in cold weather so they are not as common here as say, Texas or Oklahoma. But we should hold in high regard the few we do have. A few years back there was talk of making the ladybug our state bug. But really … are ladybugs even edible? I vote for the noble dung beetle. This is all I have learned today.

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James Wares is retired and resides in Marshalltown. He can be reached at whatjimhaslearnedtoday@yahoo.com