Insecta, Macro

The Value of Dung Beetles

Dung Beetles belong to the Order Coleoptera and Family Scarabaeidae which also contain many of the Fruit Chafer and Flower Chafer beetles so well known for decimating our rose bushes and other ornamental plants. Of course, many of these beetles are also important agricultural pests and if not controlled can have devastating economic repercussions for crop farmers.

Dung beetles on the other hand, in contrast to their destructive family members, fulfil a very beneficial agricultural and ecological function. They perform the indispensable but unenviable task of breaking up, dispersing and burying dung which without their help would lay unattended in the wild.

There are approximately 8 000 species of what is generally referred to as “Dung Beetles”, varying from as small as about 5mm to more than 50mm in size. Wherever cattle, horses or wild animals are found dung beetles will also be found to be active. Although best known for their “ball rolling” activities, not all dung beetles roll dung balls. Some species will dig a chamber directly under a dung pattie into which they then shovel dung, in effect serving to bury it and so fertilizing the ground. This dung filled chamber is also where they will lay their eggs. There are also some species which feed on the surface and do not bury the dung.

The “ball rolling” species use their strong legs to form round balls of dung which vary in size from relatively large to small depending on the specific species. These dung balls are then often rolled considerable distances away before being buried. Once the dung ball has been safely buried mating will take place and some of the dung will be eaten. The rest is used to make smaller balls into which eggs are laid. After hatching the larva will feed on its “brood ball” until it changes into a pupa and later into a beetle.

Members of the Scarabaeidae family can always be recognised by their lamellate antenna, which consists of a number of plates that can be opened and closed, like a fan.

Dung beetles have specially adapted forelegs used for digging and scraping. The forelegs are also without a tarsus (foot).

Accommodation, Travelling

Hunting Insects and How to find Them


Hunting rare insects, beetles and son on, often involves taking unique means to accessing the habitat of the insect. It’s not always possible to reach the environment in which the insect lives. This may some time require extreme measures to reach the locale of your mysterious beetle, caterpillar or arachnid ! Sky Diving is one of the best adrenalin experiences you can have. If you are on holiday visiting the Western Cape, or you live here, this experience is a must. Your flight will take you up to 10,000 feet where you will then jump in tandem out of the plane. Firstly you will enjoy a free fall for approximately 30 seconds, the scariest part! At this time you will be falling at a rate of 200 Km per hour. Skydiving into a remote location is sometimes the only way to gain access to an endangered species in Africa. This is where the adrenalin rush comes in; all you need to remember is to breath. Then your instructor will open the parachute and you will enjoy a much slower decent back to mother earth. This is the best part!  During this decent you will see an amazing view of Cape Town all the way down to Cape Point, Table Mountain, the Harbour and Robin Island. The criteria for this experience is that you must weigh more than 35 Kg and less than 105 Kg, and no prior experience is required. The cost of a tandem skydiving experience varies from R1300.00 to R3500.00.

Sky Diving is not only an experience to be enjoyed in the Cape Town Area, but the Robertson Wine Valley houses one of the oldest Sky Diving Clubs in the country. If you are a wine lover then you can also enjoy the selection of famous wines grown in this area.  The Breede River, which flows through this town also, has lots of fun activities to offer you.

I would like to mention this unique idea even if it is in Europe. Ashanti Backpackers in Cape Town have a fantastic travel centre which offer a huge variety of safari tours and packages. If you ever find yourself in Paris you have to try their indoor sky diving. If you are on your own or visiting together with your family or friends. This experience is a must and it gives you just as much of an adrenaline rush as the outdoor sky diving. Firstly you are required to arrive one hour before you start. When you are on the site you will have to complete and sign an Indemnity form, no worries this is only a standard requirement that everybody has to do. Any minor, under-18 will need a parent or guardian to assist them. You then meet your instructor and are shown a short training video. When your training is complete you will be issued with a jumpsuit that fits over your clothes, a pair of goggles and a helmet. Then you put your gear on and make your way to the flight chamber.                                                                

The principle of indoor sky diving is simply a vertical wind tunnel. When it is your turn to dive you just lean into the air flow and position your body correctly, and up you go; you are flying. You are entitled to two dives of 1 minute duration each, which will be done with an instructor. These two dives can be compared to 3 free fall skydives from 14,000 feet. The first dive allows you to learn how to stabilise your body in the wind tunnel. Then the second dive allows you to test your balance, and if you are up to it you can try a vertical take-off. During these dives your flight is monitored and displayed on a screen in order to assist you in getting into the correct position. During your flight pictures and a video are taken of your performance which you may purchase afterwards.      

However there are certain requirements that need to be adhered to before you can fly.

  • You must weigh less than 115 Kg
  • The only stipulation to age is that you must be older than 5.
  • You are not pregnant.
  • You have no prior shoulder injuries.
  • You are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • You do not have a plaster cast on any limb.
  • Any individual with physical or mental disabilities are welcome but need to be assessed beforehand by the instructor and provide a medical certificate stating their condition.

The introductory flight may last up to 1, 5 hours and the cost will be R1067.00.  So if you are not into the real thing in our beautiful city of Cape Town, you can always head to Paris for this unique way of experiencing skydiving.

Equipment, Technique

Techniques Used

Almost all the insects that I photograph are alive and in the place where I have found them. It is important whenever possible to show not only the insect but also the foodplant on which it has been found. From time to time, however, I find a dead specimen or someone brings me a specimen that is already dead. In such a case I attempt to reconstruct the insects natural surroundings either outside, or where circumstances demand, for example if the insect is very small in a studio set. It can be exceedingly difficult to make a dead insect appear alive as small detail such as the position of the tarsus (foot) as well as the antennae need to be properly positioned. Before handling the specimen needs to be relaxed (softened) in order to be able to move the limbs without breaking them, often even this does not help and after losing a few legs the specimen is no longer worth photographing.

Great care and patience is required. Photographing insects is in many ways like hunting wild game and many of the same principals apply. Insects have acute hearing, they can sense minute vibrations and have excellent eyesight, their multifaceted eyes being able to pick up the slightest movement or change in light. Many are as vigilant as the most nervous buck and most possess the capability of flight. When stalking a skittish butterfly or dragonfly with a camera and long lens capable of only a few centimeters of field depth every bit of the skill and dedication of the big game hunter is often needed. Knowing your subject and its habits helps a lot too. Many insects will repeatedly return to the same plant or flower and this allows one to settle down and “ambush” it as it returns.

I have neither very expensive nor very specialised equipment. I make use of two cameras, a Canon Powershot G3 and a Canon 300D. The majority of my photographs have been taken with the 300D. Although I have recently acquired a 100mm macro lens, many of my photographs have been taken using a F4.5 80-200mm zoom lens with various homemade attachments including lenses salvaged from an old pair of binoculars which make excellent supplementary lenses. I use these in various combinations as well as a reversed 55mm Pentax lens either alone or attached to the zoom lens or the macro lens. I furthermore have a Nikon SMZ-10 trinocular stereo zoom microscope which I use for identifying and studying specimens and to which I am able to fit either of my cameras.

The only basic requirements are that the article fit the broad theme of the Insecta website, that is, that it be of interest to nature lovers and/or nature photographers. It must obviously be your own work and your name and contact information must be supplied. If you wish you can do your own layout of text and pictures based on a 1024 x 768 screen resolution or simply forward text and pictures and I will do the layout to fit the style of the Insecta website. Do take note, however, that articles that I consider unsuitable will not be published, the discretion lies entirely with me. No payment will be made for articles or photographs published, the copyright of all text and photographs remains that of the author/photographer.