Museum Blog

Poop theft frozen in time

Posted 1/12/2011 12:01 AM by Frank Krell | Comments
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Have you ever thought about stealing poop? In the tropics, particularly in Africa, a whole group of dung beetles, the kleptoparasites, have specialized in stealing poop from other dung beetles. In some parts of the African savanna, the poop thieves are the most abundant group of dung beetle which makes the live of the honest dung beetle quite challenging. Studying fossil material from Laetoli in Tanzania, I found fossilized traces of dung theft. Laetoli has not only preserved human footprints from about 3.5 million years ago, for which it is famous. Laetoli has also revealed three-dimensionally preserved insects, and fossilized brood balls that dung beetles had made and buried. In a couple of those dungballs, I detected holes that were too small for the dung beetle that once had developed in the dung ball. Those holes are likely to be the traces of cleptoparasite activity. The thieves probably got away with it, but the evidence is well-preserved for eternity.

The fossil brood balls, the kleptoparasite traces and a couple of magnificent three-dimensional fossil scarab beetles are published in:

KRELL, F.-T. & Schawaller, W. 2011. Beetles (Insecta: Coleoptera). Pp. 535-548 in: T. Harrison (ed.): Paleontology and Geology of Laetoli: Volume 2: Fossil Hominines and the Associated Fauna. Dordrecht: Springer.

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