Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Wouldn't Want To Change That Diet?

One type of dung beetle has decided it prefers food that hasn't already been eaten, and will kill to get it.

A ferocious scarab species has been filmed in Peru attacking and eating millipedes 10 times its length. D. valgum no longer dines on faeces. Instead, the nocturnal predator prefers to decapitate live prey with its armour "teeth" and then devour their insides.

They completely gave up their old habits.

The beetles were never seen rolling dung balls. Instead, they used their powerful hind legs to drag a killed millipede to a safe site and then begin devouring it.

I'm not sure about eating millipedes, but I can certainly understand giving up the dung. This particular species does have advantageous differences from its relatives.

Dung beetles' heads are usually flat and wide like a shovel in order to roll balls of dung but D. valgum has a narrow, pointy head which it uses to get right inside the millipede's body and feed on its insides. It also has sharper "teeth", which are used to prise open the body and sever it into smaller pieces.

It has understandably intrigued scientists.

"It seems like such a huge jump - from a scavenger to a hunter-predator - so the real story is, how did it get from A to Z?" said Dr Adrian Forsyth of the Blue Moon Fund, a co-author on the paper. "We knew plenty of dung beetles which are attracted to dead insects - drawn by their potent cyanide-rich odours. And now we find a species which just couldn't wait."