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July 12th, 2009 - Manteca!

Speaking of dung beetles, (dung beetles first, Manteca later) I walked into work at Springbrook Nature Center the other day, and there was a bucket of dung beetles. Along with a bucket of dung.
This is just the sort of variety I've come to expect from working at nature centers. It's almost disappointing when you come in and there's no dung beetles, a deer hasn't jumped in through a double-plate glass window, set off the alarm, and out jumped through another window, leaving a $1100 worth of glass and a trail of blood behind him. Some days the excitement is just hiding in the details, I guess.

This day however, provided the dung beetles. After last week's post about the Scarab beetle, and how they were members of the illustrious and far-reaching dung beetle family, my friend and fellow scorpion photographer Buthidae sent me a link to an NPR audio show: Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewing entomologist Douglas Emlen about "The Fascinating World of the Dung Beetle" in near perfect synchronicity.
I listened to it on the way in to work and found out some interesting facts about dung beetles. I got there, and there they were!

One pretty obvious characteristic is that the males have all of these specialized appendages in the forms of horns, "antlers," pincers, barbed limbs, and body armor that they use to battle other males when they attempt to breech the tunnel entrance to their mate, with whom they also want to mate. For the size of the creature, the size of the weaponry and armor is stupendous. So large in fact, that most species have traded off the size of some other body part during their evolution to accommodate it.

Pretty cool looking little insects, our guys were a little over an inch long. Some can be over four inches long. They can burrow very quickly, and climb and manipulate things (like dung balls) with their Swiss-army style legs and feet very effictively.

It's said that each species of dung beetle (and there are several hundred that we know of) has it's own species of animal that it requires dung from, some even being so clever as to ride around on their host's derriere until they defecate, then they quickly jump down lay some eggs and climb back up to stowaway for the next stop along the bus line.
The dung balls pictured were the actual "egg sacs" for the beetles. The parents lay the eggs inside, roll them up with some extra dung treats stuffed in for junior or sis, and then roll them down a tunnel to wait for hatching day.
They remind me quite a lot of mid-size chocolate Easter eggs, they're pretty solid until one side caves in, then you see the hollow center that you thought was going to be solid chocolate, or vanilla custard. Psych! Most of these had already hatched, but it looked like there were a few late bloomers still waiting for their big day.

On the same day, and on the same counter, (hey, we're still at the nature center here) was a grocery bag full of six pounds of lard, a large bag of Mentos, and two spice jars of ground cinnamon. Talk about a party waiting to happen!
The thing that amazed me (and cracked me up because I've been there many times) is that "lard" in Spanish seems to translate to "manteca" as in Manteca, California; a town near Modesto. I had always wondered why the Mexicans kind of smirked when you mentioned that town.
Note also the "No Requiere Refrigeracion" notice. How they manage that, I do not want to know. Good thing though, as it gets awfully hot in Manteca...
Support your local dung beetle!


buthidae said...

So, Ive been waiting for two days for somebody else to ask the obviously stupid question.

No hands are raised, so I'll ask: What, pray tell, does one do with lard, mentos, and cinnamon? (I do hope dung is not the fourth ingredient).

dignature said...

Yes, well, to be honest, that bag was the domain of the Summer Camp Crew and I wasn't exactly positive what the destination for everything was.
I had my suspicions, however I thought it best to fact-check with the source first...
I was hoping the six pounds of lard was going to be strapped to people's feet and used in a land-skating race, but surprisingly enough the actual use does have a little bit more of a nature center purpose. Todd says it will go into the camp kids' craft project for today: suet feeders.
In a way, I'm glad I'm not going to be around for a couple dozen four-year-olds molding lard. I'm sure I'll witness at least some of the aftermath when I go in at 4:30, however.
The Mentos will be used for what Mentos are inevitably used for at the NC: making Diet Coke and Mentos geysers. We even have special "Mentos trigger devices" that screw onto 1.5 liter bottles of Diet Coke for remote triggering. We won't talk about what I think of the waste involved there.
And the cinnamon goes towards the most obvious use in the world: Making cinnamon toast! Universal currency of the Summer Camp universe.
Now you know... The Rest Of The Stor-ree...!