When we first moved to Ecuador in 2011, we had very limited funds and were not able to purchase a washing machine until several months after we moved into our apartment. There are people available who will launder your clothing for you, but, especially during rainy season, it can take several days to a week to get your clothes back and we had too few clothes to wait.
So, Mary and I would wash our clothes by hand in tubs and wring the clothes out to hang on a small folding mechanism which we could keep under cover on the patio. When Mary washed larger items (like our sheets) I would wait below the deck area and Mary would drop the sheets over to me so that I could hang them up down by the ramada area.
One morning while I was waiting for a sheet-drop I noticed the ground around me was moving! I looked closer and saw little black beetles rolling round balls of dirt across the yard area.
Thus began my fascination with dung beetles. Yep, those balls of dirt were actually carefully prepared balls of dung (animal droppings, solid waste, crap, etc.). Over the years I have spent many hours reading on the internet about these unusual insects who feed on dung. Seems that they also gather up balls of the delicacy to move to remote locations. They lay their eggs in the balls so the new-borns will have a food source available as soon as they hatch.
Makes you happy to be a bit higher up the food chain!
Anyway, on Easter morning, while I was preparing some hickory smoked turkey for our dinner, I noticed a pair of dung beetles rolling a ball of dung near my barbecue. It is fun to watch them roll the dung ball along as the female generally rides along on top like a circus dog moving left and right to stay on the top of the heap as the male pushes a ball four or five times larger than he is (along with the missus) to a suitable spot.
I finished what I was doing and went into the house for my camera. When I returned the industrious bugs had moved the dung ball three or four feet away from where I had first spotted them and the male was digging a hole next to the ball. Mrs. Dung was still clinging to the side of the ball perhaps laying her eggs as she was not moving.
As I watched, the male beetle popped up out of the prepared hole and raced over to the dung ball and promptly rolled it and mom into the hole.
These beetles are about one fourth of an inch to three eighth of an inch long and the ball was over a half inch in diameter. A closer look will give you a feel for the proportions.
The two toned beetle can be seen wrestling the ball into position. After the two got the ball situated, they dug a bit more and then covered the nesting place up secure in the knowledge that the little ones would have sufficient crap to eat upon hatching.
Now for some random thoughts…
In my research I read, “Dung beetles are currently the only known non-human animal to navigate and orient themselves using the milky way.” I pondered on that for some time wondering if some scientist had seen the little guys out with a sextant shouting out readings to the navigator? How the heck could anyone know that?
There was a reference article (published by National Geographic no less) that I looked up and read. As far as I could see the research showed that during the day the beetles oriented by the light of the sun and during the night they negotiated their way by the light of the moon. On moonless nights the bugs seemed to navigate by the light of the stars.
Some researchers actually put little masks on the beetles at night and found that the beetles rolled the ball around in aimless circles. Go figure… Kind of like we all might do on a pitch black night with a blindfold on trying to roll a ball the size of a small car over rough ground. From that the researchers surmised that the dung beetles, “orient themselves using the milky way.”
I hope that research was privately funded.
I have also been fascinated by hummingbirds. In a list of hummingbird facts I read, “A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.” Now that is quantifiable and pretty amazing.
But the next fact stated, “Hummingbirds are very smart and they can remember every flower they have been to, and how long it will take that flower to refill.” Call me crazy, but I have tried to interview scores of hummingbirds and not a single one of them will tell me which flowers they have or have not visited. Since I can not read their unusually large mind, I really can not confirm that “fact.”
People ask us how we fill the days now that we are retired? Mary paints and does all sorts of creative things while I ponder things like hummingbird brains and dung beetle’s navigational skills here where…
Life is good in Ecuador!