The WildLife: Dung Beetle Adventures, Part II, Doug Emlen



Doug Emlen, a University of Montana biology professor, discusses his research into the developmental and evolutionary biology of dung beetles in the second part of his two-part interview. He tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme about his many adventures doing research–from being charged by cape buffalo as he picks through dung on the plains of Africa to the strange looks airline security gives him when he comes back from his travels to far-flung places with his carry-ons filled with dung beetles. He also talks about how he learned to smell howler monkeys so that he could locate their first dung of the morning – and thus find the dung beetles that were the real object of his desire. The interview also includes a discussion on predatory strategies related to dung. While most predators don’t use dung to find their prey, because by the time they find the dung the animals would be long gone, some animals, like sloths and koalas, move so slow that they use a different strategy of burying their dung so that predators can’t find them from the smell. You’ll find out how some specialized dung beetles have adapted and hang onto the backs of the animals until the opportune moment when they drop down to be buried with their prize. Dr. Emlen was always interested in animal armament and became even more interested after studying a species of dung beetle in Panama that specialized in howler monkey scat. Since then, he broadened his research to dung beetles all over the world and has noticed interesting patterns in their weaponry. Now, he’s focusing his research on the evolutionary forces that make animal weapons, from dung beetle horns to elk antlers to rhino horns, so diverse. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on June 14, 2010.