The old dog and I walked out to the meadow by the house, she to slowly wander about considering pooping, and I to scan the grasses for butterflies.The pile of deer dung lying under the white oak looked fresh. There are many of these right now where the deer have stood chewing their acorn/yard shrub cud. I decided it was worth flicking this one into the woods with my trowel so that the dog wouldn’t eat or roll in one of her favorite fragrances. The pile was softer than I expected, and split apart when I nudged it, revealing the startling glimmer of a chunky, iridescent beetle lodged in the center. My first thought was, “Now why was a deer eating June bugs?” Then I saw a large horn protruding from the pronotum, bright green elytra, and ruby red shining over its thorax. Whatever it was, I needed my camera. When I returned and photographed its awkward, disoriented journey down the length of the trowel, I was still astounded. This creature had never crossed my path before. I could guess at some of its taxonomy, but only up to dung beetle. And who had ever heard of a beetle that spends its life working dung into balls for the benefit of its young having such incredibly vivid colors? Why would it?
This morning I shared the wonder of this discovery with my M Group students, first showing them a photo, and then asking them to try classifying it. They all agreed on beetle, but beyond that was a mystery. I clarified where and how I found it, and then showed them how to search with the terms that they knew or observed – beetle found in deer dung, shiny, rainbow colors, horn. And there it was, the rainbow scarab, Phanaeus vindex, pharaoh of the dung heap.
And why the bright colors? “Because if you lived in poop, you’d want to look all sparkly so no one would think you were poop.”