spacer
The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
Oh Give me a Home Where the Buffaloes Roam
by Michael Begg
spacer
Everyone loves dung beetles. Tireless janitors of the field and desert, they heave their enormous turdballs around the plain, heedless of the risk of stomping or plopping on by their own clients, stopping only to pose with each other in headlocks for David Attenborough and his crew. Such selfless devotion to public service can't fail to please in a society almost completely cured of the idea of organised labour. No pampered Dagenham Ford griping or brazier-lit Clydeside picketing from the dung beetle. Even if they did complain, it would probably be in a voice like Johnny Morris's and only to say what tiring work it is, but that they really must get on. And that's why we love them: they just get on with their jobs, the frenzied little chaps, no matter the hardship or risk, while we sit bickering about whose turn it is to walk five feet to the next room to fetch a couple more bottles of lifestyle lager and a bag of stoat and hyssop crisps.
spacer
But is it as simple as that? Are they really all the poop-trundling saints they are made out to be? A look at a few websites on them soon shows a side to these creatures that the Life on Earth chaps wouldn't like you to know about. Consider, for example, Aphodius porcus, a kleptocoprophage beetle. As the name might suggest, these lads don't roll their own. They hang about while other dung-humpers go about their business and then mug them for their day's work, eating it and any eggs they may have laid in it. Hardly Marx's paradise of hard work and societal ideals, is it? Then there are Zonocopris gibbicolis, the generation X of dung beetles. These hellraisers ride around in South America on the backs of snails, eating the excreta their ambling mounts produce. As if law-abiding dungers didn't have enough to worry about, with the worry of being obliterated by an uncaring hoof or held up by Adam and the Ants, they have to put up with Hell's Angels tanking through their paddock, running them over and covering them with slime. To be fair, I suppose I can see the attraction. It's not just the speed. Imagine riding about on a horse that crapped steak and eggs if it pissed beer too, you'd never get off it.
spacer
So you can see that dung beetle society has its problems just like ours, with crime and ill-disciplined elements, and with bad apples like these we might even admire yet more the sturdy­antlered stalwarts of cow, horse, wildebeest, rabbit, reptile, amphibian or bird dumpings (there is even a variety, Onthophagus caenobita, that has only ever been found in human faeces, although I wouldn't like to see the state of the lab that published that paper). Their dogged shovelling might seem all the more stoic with such rogues disturbing the peace. But it's not just that they carry on regardless as the shit flies and the shit flies flit by our heroes are capable of greater things than that.
spacer
Apparently, every hour, over 12 million cattle dung pats are dropped onto Australian soil. This means that each year, the 30 million cattle in Australia cover over 20,000 square kilometres of grazing land with their dung. I don't know how that measures up to to the size of Wales (the usual comparator for deforestation, ozone holes, melting ice-caps etc.) but that sounds like a problem, if only because of the run on new shoes. And because the biggest turds on the block prior to the introduction of cattle were the pigeon-egg numbers parped out by kangaroos, it's easy to see that the local beetles wouldn't know what had hit them. All the overtime in the world wouldn't have helped them fill such an order. And because beetle-munching is an essential part in the biodegrading of a cowpat, these things just sat around the place getting baked in the Nullabor sun, like so many unsold INXS albums. The result was less grass, hungry cows and the whole animal husbandry system backing up like a wildebeest's bowels on boiled eggs. After some thought (and perhaps a fact-finding trip to Wales) they brought in some European varieties who soon got to grips with the situation in such an impressive way that the government is now using them to try and deal with the 100 tonnes of dogshit that are apparently dumped on the streets of Sydney every day (I don't know by whom).
spacer
So, next time you chuckle and shake your head bemusedly at the latest half hour put together of clips from the BBC's dung-cam, just remember that these manic log-rollers saved a whole continent from the wholly incontinent. And who knows, if the Sydney trial goes well, maybe they could be put to work on the streets of Belfast. Now there's a Herculean task.
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer