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Two European species of dung beetle have been imported into Australia to help break down the cow pats of the country's 28 million cattle. The French beetles will be quarantined for two years, as part of a CSIRO project. Biosecurity Australia requires that only the eggs, and not the imported insects, be distributed across the country to return dung to the soil to improve fertility. The insects will build colonies and produce eggs ahead of their release in the spring months, when other dung beetle species in Australia are inactive. Researcher Dr Jane Wright says the little powerhouses of the paddock must go through a lot before the eggs can be distributed to cattle producers. "We had to engage special couriers to ship the beetles from France to Australia," she said. "Now they've gone into quarantine and they're busy eating dung and we try and convince them summer's winter and winter's summer because we're six months out of phase with Europe. "We will be able to release the first colonies in the spring of 2014." Dung beetle expert John Feehan says he is doing a lot of work with farmers in the Coonabarabran area, where dung beetles are showing great resilience in extreme conditions. "There are a number of properties at Coonabarabran that have six, eight and 10 species," he said.
"The temperatures at Coonabarabran, which range from -6 degrees Celsius in the winter to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, suggest the Coonabarabran dung beetles can tolerate all other temperatures in NSW and southern Queensland." Mr Feehan, who has spent 15 years working with Coonabarabran farmers, says dung beetles are incredibly important for the region's soil. "We live in a very old, ancient continent and most of the good things in our soils have been eroded and blown away over the millions of years and it's the cattle that have caused one of the greatest ecological changes on this continent," he said. "Those 28 million cattle drop, each day, about half-a-million tonnes of cow dung." Mr Feehan says dung beetles do have predators, and one of the little known ones is the fox. "In the winter time when young foxes can't find alternate food supplies they will find fresh dung and sit beside it and they will eat dung beetles as they fly into the dung," he said. "I shot a fox on one occasion and it had 72 beetles in its gut."
Onthophagus vacca and Bubas bubalus are the first new species of dung beetles imported into Australia in more than 20 years, and were collected in the south of France. _________________ Il n’y a point de génie sans un grain de folie