How to channel your inner dung beetle

The dung beetle can be a model of inspiration and perseverance in times of hardship.

The animal kingdom is full of creatures that present the perfect metaphor for the human condition, but few are as determined and tenacious as the dung beetle. Yes, the dung beetle. Hear me out.

I'm in the process of moving, and while talking to my sister last night and seeking her advice about mortgages, interest rates, closings, packing, movers, blah, blah, blah, I told her "I feel like a dung beetle trying to push a ball of poo up a hill," and then it hit me the second the words left my mouth. I need to channel my inner dung beetle and push that ball of poo up the hill!


For those who are unfamiliar with the dung beetle, they're a small insect that feed on, well, dung. They roll the dung into a ball that can be about four times their body size, then roll the ball home to make a brooding nest for their young to feast on while they grow. To put it in perspective, rolling that ball home would be the equivalent of a human pulling six double-decker buses full of people. These little guys are super strong, and full of perseverance.

The uphill battle

If you've ever had to pack up and move, you understand the weight of the seemingly insurmountable tasks that saddle up on your shoulders. It is exhausting and stressful. This is my life right now, and while I'm super excited about the change, the weight and the 'view uphill' are definitely getting to me.

The dung beetle doesn't look at the uphill battle ahead, it pushes its ball backwards using hind leg power. It's not focused on the challenge ahead, it's focused on the end result. Well, then how does it know where it's going? Because they're the first known species in the animal kingdom to use the Milky Way to navigate their way. Scientists discovered this, and tested their theory by putting tiny hats on the dung beetles to block their ability to see the night sky. The co-author of the linked study, Eric Warrant, noted that “You can do anything you want to them, and they just keep on rolling.”

The dung

Okay, so you may think it's pretty gross. They eat and live in feces. But, thank goodness because something needs to get rid all that waste! Without their continuous removal, burying and eating of this 'bountiful harvest,' the world would have billions more flies to deal with. Australia has even turned to importing these little poop disposals to help address their abundance of cow manure and help improve the fertility of their soil. Not only do the dung beetles provide a valuable resource with their skills, they take something that is viewed as gross and turn it into vitality and sustainability — something to thrive on.


I'm sure you've seen example of scarabs from Egypt. Yep, that's a dung beetle! In ancient Egyptian times the Scarabaeus sacer were revered and even worshiped. Why?

The beetle pushing its dung ball across the sand was likened to the the god of the rising sun, Khepri, who was believed to push the sun across the sky. The beetles were also believed to have self-creating powers because the young beetles seemed to emerge from the dung ball without the parent beetle ever having reproduced (in actuality, the dung ball serves as a nursery and food dispenser for the young beetle larvae grow, and dung beetle mating is done underground, so they just weren't seeing it). The scarab became a pervasive Egyptian symbol for renewal, growth and transformation, thus giving the dung beetle a celebrity status of sorts.

Be the beetle

The moral of this story? When life places a steaming pile of 'challenges' at your feet, use your inner strength to turn it into something great. It's hard work to make that something great pay off, but with determined perseverance, you can do it. Don't focus on the tough path ahead, but look forward to the end result of your hard work. And, once you've succeeded (or at least tried your hardest) you deserve to feel, and maybe even be praised, for it.

Now I'm going to go channel my inner dung beetle get at least four more boxes packed tonight!

This story was originally written by Ladye Jane Vickers for Broadreach. She is creative director for Broadreach, which offers summer adventure and study abroad programs for middle school, high school and college students.