Could dung beetles be the environmental warriors New Zealand
dairy farmers have been waiting for?
They happily chew through the poo, turning waste into soil
fertiliser. And with the average dairy cow producing 11 cow
pats every day, the beetles have plenty of work ahead of
The national Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group (DBRSG) this
week released its first 500 dung beetles into the ''wild'' on
an organic dairy farm at Tuturau, near Wyndham. Beetles will
also be released soon on three other farms elsewhere in the
DBRSG chairman John Pearce, who flew from Auckland to
supervise the release, said the beetles were expected to
naturally spread to all properties, although that would take
Their potential to reduce the amount of dung deposited on
farm paddocks, especially intensively farmed dairy
properties, was huge, he said.
''There is nothing else that is going to work in the medium
term like beetles.''
The DBRSG had been working towards yesterday's release for
more than 10 years and it was exciting to see their
introduction finally happening, he said.
In 2011, the group gained permission to import 11 species of
beetles from several countries, including South Africa. They
were reared at Landcare Research facilities at Lincoln, near
Christchurch, and Auckland.
Two species of beetle were released in Southland, both about
the size of a house fly.
Environment Southland, which invested in the DBRSG programme
early on, will monitor the release to see how well the
beetles multiply and spread.
Landcare Research invertebrate ecologist Shaun Forgie also
flew from Auckland for the release. He said he expected the
''fast-breeding'' beetles to multiply and begin their work
There would be up to 600 beetles on one cow pat, he said.
''I've seen cow pats with 500-600 beetles on them festooned
like a writhing mass. They can decimate a cow pat within 24
Tuturau dairy farmer Robin Greer said he offered his 350-cow
property as a release site because he and his wife Lois ran
an organic farm. He was keen to support a biological agent
for dung disposal and wanted to see how quickly cow pats
''It gives a whole new meaning to going out and checking the
Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills said the
release had the possibility to assist with future
environmental aspects of animal dung disposal.
It was estimated that animal dung covered 700,000ha of
pastoral land in New Zealand. Dung beetles would process that
dung for food and reproduction, eventually breaking it down
into a sawdust-like material. Without them, it could take up
to a month for the dung to break down.
''The process not only gets rid of the dung, it also improves
soil health and pasture productivity, reduces water and
nutrient run-off, and has been shown to reduce parasitic
infection in livestock,'' Mr Wills said.
''There is also the potential to reduce the reliance on
drenching stock in the longer term as dung beetle populations
Eat animal faeces.
Tunnel down into the ground, also build dung brood balls into
which females lay a single egg.
Hatched larvae eat their dung ball as they grow, turning
faeces into a sawdust-like material.
Larvae grow to adulthood in 8-10 weeks.
Adult beetles live for about three months. Females can
produce 150 eggs over their lifetime.
Dung beetle activity improves soil health, aeration and
pasture productivity, and reduces water and nutrient
Grass roots grow deeper into the soil, which makes pasture
more drought resistant. Process has also been shown to reduce
parasitic infection in livestock.
Source: Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group