'Reject your inner dung beetle'

1 January 2022
Picture of dung beetle

Scarabaeus Zambesianus — the African Dung Beetle

If you’re visiting any of South Africa’s magnificent game reserves and look down, chances are you will see one these: Scarabaeus Zambesianus is the African Dung Beetle, and its lot in life is to find a mound of fæces, roll it a couple of hundred metres from where it was dumped, and bury it in an underground chamber. The beetle lays an egg in the ball which hatches into larva which feeds on the dung. The larva turns into a pupa, the pupa hatches into a new beetle which goes out into the world in search of more dung…

Now in the context of the wild, this is in incredibly useful. An average African elephant eats around 150 kilograms every day, and around half of that is dropped as dung 12-15 times a day. Without dung beetles, there would be 2 000 tons of elephant dung per elephant every year. With a population of around 450 000 elephants across the continent, that’s close to 1 billion tons of elephant droppings per year; kept in check only by relentless hordes of scarabs.

For the longest time, I’ve had great admiration for these relentless toilers. I will patiently wait for them to cross the road to avoid running them over while pondering on the wonders of nature.

All of that changed for me recently when I saw one of them take off and fly.

(Mental conversation at that point: “Let me get this straight, you guys can fly, but you spend your days rolling balls of sh*t for the benefit of the planet?”)

And I realized that this is a metaphor for the human condition. Many of us are capable of flying but spend our days focused on laboriously processing what in the grand scheme of things are balls of sh*t.

So for the years ahead, I vow to reject my inner dung beetle. I will no longer be distracted by processing steaming heaps of fæces and will instead try my best to focus on flying.

You should too.

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