The sweeping scientific and social history of the humble dung beetle
The humble and industrious dung beetle is a marvelous beast: the 6,000 species identified so far are intricately entwined with human history and scientific endeavor. These night-soil collectors of the planet have been worshipped as gods, worn as jewelry, and painted by artists. More practically, they saved Hawaii from ecological blight, and rescued Australia from plagues of flies. They fertilize soil, cleanse pastures, steer by the stars, and have a unique relationship with the African elephant (along with many other ungulates). Above all, they are the ideal subject for biological study in an evolving world.
In this sweeping history of more than 3,000 years, beginning with Ancient Egypt, scientist Marcus Byrne and writer Helen Lunn capture the diversity of dung beetles and their unique behavior patterns. Dung beetles’ fortunes have followed the shifts from a world dominated by a religion that symbolically incorporated them into some of its key concepts of rebirth, to a world in which science has largely separated itself from religion and alchemy. With over 6,000 species found throughout the world, these unassuming but remarkable creatures are fundamental to some of humanity’s most cherished beliefs and have been ever present in religion, art, literature, science and the environment. They are at the center of current gene research, play an important role in keeping our planet healthy, and some nocturnal dung beetles have been found to navigate by the starry skies. Outlining the development of science from the point of view of the humble dung beetle is what makes this charming story of immense interest to general readers and entomologists alike.
"This book will leave you with a deeper appreciation of nature and of our relationship to other living creatures. It will forever leave an image in your mind of a little beetle with a peaked cap glued onto its shiny, earless head unable to see the sun and thus meandering pointlessly with their dung balls." ~Sandra Swart, Professor of History, University of Stellenbosch
"Ig Nobel Prize winner Marcus Byrne has a new book called Dance of the Dung Beetles. It can please and enlighten anyone—human or beetle or both (Beatle)—who ever has contact with with dance, dung, life, or the universe." ~Improbable
"Dung beetles — which fascinated Charles Darwin — were once divine symbols. In ancient Egypt, Khepri (god of the rising Sun) had a scarab-beetle head because the insect ‘danced’ balls of dung across the Earth, just as the Sun moved across the sky. The beetle is thought later to have metamorphosed into zodiac sign Cancer, the crab. Now, thanks to experiments by entomologists such as Marcus Byrne, we know that dung beetles can navigate by the Milky Way. His collaboration with writer Helen Lunn, eye-catchingly illustrated, is a captivating compound of science, history and myth." ~Nature
"Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn recount the history of these much storied and increasingly studied Coleopterans in their new Dance of the Dung Beetles. Delving back some 3,000 years and following their subjects up to the present day, this new book seems to be just the thing for entomologists, general naturalists, and curious general readers alike." ~The Well-Read Naturalist
"An entertaining and educational "tour" incorporating both Egyptian mythology and 17th-century scientific discovery... though geared for an audience already enthusiastic about entomology and its role in the history of natural science, casual readers will also find much of interest. A collection of diverse images adds value to the text, as does the detailed notes section, providing sources for each chapter." ~Choice