Over spring and summer, volunteers around Australia have been shifting through cow poo to save an introduced species of dung beetle.
Twenty-one nursery sites around Australia have been managed by volunteers like Tom O’Malley from Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management in north-west Tasmania.
“It’s maybe not that glamorous for a lot of people but, for myself, I find it quite exciting,” he said.
“I find the odour of cow dung quite innocuous now, [although] my little girl doesn’t feel the same way when she’s helped me a few times.”
But all the smelly work has paid off.
“So far out of those 50 breeding beetles that we put into the cage [protected nursery] I’ve trapped and relocated 268 beetles into the second cage,” Mr O’Malley said.
“They’ve already demonstrated that they can increase their population by more than five-fold in each generation in Tasmania, which to me sounds like a reasonable success.”
The next generation of beetles will emerge in spring and the program will be extended.
Third time’s a charm
Scientists say Australia’s native dung beetles are not suited to the manure produced by sheep and cattle.
Onthophagus vacca, which translates to ‘eater of cow dung’, was imported from France in the 1980s and again in 2012.
The second attempt ended with just 76 individual beetles in the care of Bernard Doube from Dung Beetle Solutions in South Australia.
After successfully saving the species in Australia, he established nursery sites across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia last year.
Across the 21 sites, only three colonies failed to reproduce in their new homes.
“We’ve had no success in the drought-affected areas of New South Wales,” Dr Doube said.
Between 1969 and 1987, the CSIRO successfully introduced 23 different species of dung beetle to Australia to help bury the massive amounts of manure produced by livestock every year.