Imagine a world where leaves that fall from a tree, or poop never disappeared…they just accumulate over time.   Soon we would be knee deep in dead plants, animals, and poop.   There are many insects that feed on these resources and break them down into nutrients that help plants grow. 

These insects are called Saprophages (from the Greek words "sapros" meaning rotten and "phagein" the verb to eat or devour). 

a.  Insects that feed on dead or dying plant tissues.  There are many, soil- and wood-inhabiting species that shred leaves or tunnel in dead wood.     This helps plant materials to decay quickly.   Over time, decay creates humus, a type of soil rich in organic matter. 

b.  Insects that feed on dead animals (carrion).   There are many insects that are attracted to and feed on carrion including beetles, flies, wasps, and ants.

Different species show up and feed on a dead body for a limited period of time but, all together, these insects rapidly consume and/or bury the decaying flesh.  Blow flies are usually the first to arrive on a dead animal, and they are the first to complete development and depart.   Other species follow over time in a relatively predictable sequence as the body decomposes.   This change in the species composition of saprophages is called faunal succession.  This succession can help Forensic Entomologists pinpoint the time of death when a body is found. 

c.   Insects that feed on the poop of other animals.    These insects are coprophages (feces eaters) and include mostly flies and dung beetles.  

Dung beetles lay their eggs on poop, and the larvae feed on that.   Dung beetles fall into three categories depending on how they use the poop.   There are: 

  • tunnelers (paracoprids): they construct tunnels into which they roll balls of poop.
  • dwellers (endocoprids): they live usually in the poop on underneath it.
  • rollers (telecoprids): they make balls of poop and roll them away to a shallow hole, then lay eggs on it.

 There are numerous benefits from poop eating insects.   

  • They help plants grow by quickly removing poop from vegetation…. without dung beetles, grazing land would become unusable because the poop would take a lot longer to go away.
  • Dung beetle tunneling helps with get air to the roots of pasture plants and help rainwater soak in.

Types of dung beetles