Dung Beetles, Howler Monkeys and Fruit Trees

I became intrigued by dung beetles several years ago when I began to notice a couple of species of dung beetles in my yard making good use of the dung left behind by our dogs! As I began reading and learning more about these amazing beetles, I ran across some fascinating research being done on dung beetles in rainforest habitats.

The research indicates that a mutualism exists between three species—howler monkeys, dung beetles and fruit trees. Here is how the relationship unfolds. Howler monkeys spend lots of time in the fruit trees of the tropics eating the fruit and foliage. They deposit the seeds of the trees mixed with their dung below the trees. Left there, the seeds would be concentrated too densely to germinate and successfully produce very many trees. That is, the saplings would be in competition with each other for nutrition and sunlight. The seeds would also be vulnerable to rodents who would use them for food. These factors would all work together to reduce the population of fruit trees.

Enter the dung beetle—an unlikely hero. The dung beetle gathers up the dung, which happens to be mixed with seeds, from the piles in balls and roles them away. The female lays her eggs in the ball of dung or “brood ball” and the male and female then bury the brood balls a few inches below the ground surface. Because of the presence of dung beetles, the seeds of the trees are dispersed more widely and are buried at a depth that protects them from rodents.… Read the full post “Dung Beetles, Howler Monkeys and Fruit Trees”