25 Feb 2020

Local school children release dung beetles on Mahia Peninsula

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:26 pm on 25 February 2020

A large number of dung beetles were set loose on the Māhia Peninsula on Tuesday as part of a community initiative to improve the soil quality and manage run off from farm paddocks. 

Local Māhia school children participated as part of the Hills Country Futures project citizen science initiative, run by Whangawehi a group formed to raise awareness of the health of water catchment in the area.  

Mahia school children assist with the release of Dung beetles on Mahia Peninsula

Mahia school children assist with the release of Dung beetles on Mahia Peninsula Photo: Supplied

Otago University emeritus Henrik Moller is one of the scientists who was there today and explains why the beetles are so good for the soil and the water.

He told Jesse Mulligan they released 5000 beetles.

“It was amazing fun, the kids really got into it, there was a fair bit of mayhem and poo flying around.”

The students made “really big poo sandwiches” he said and sealed the beetles between two layers of dung.

The beetles will do vital work, Moller says.

“We need dung beetles, we brought cattle and goats and sheep out here, but we didn’t bring with them the dung beetle fauna that existed where we brought them from, and that means we haven’t had this army of insects to bury and disperse the dung.”

He says the goal is for every farm to have the busy beetles in the paddock.

“Just like earth worms, they build the soil, they put carbon in the soil, the dung beetles build tunnels and then those tunnels act as tubes, build water, and improves the ability of the soil to hold water when drought comes so that’s good for farmers.         “

But most importantly the beetles bury the dung, he says.

“Most of all we’re worried about dung staying in the soil rather than washing off into waterways. Dung beetles attack the problem in the paddocks and reduce the amount that’s reaching those riparian strips. The two systems work really well together.”

Moller says there is little chance of a plague of beetles doing more harm than good.  

“We do have fifteen species of native dung beetle, but they all live in forest and they don’t fly. These introduced species don’t venture into the forest, so we’re really certain there won’t be any unintended consequences.”

He’s calling for a People’s Poo Beetle Movement to have these busy creatures all over Aotearoa, but says despite them breeding quickly we’ll need a lot of them.  

“We need millions upon millions of these things around New Zealand.”

Moller says he saw the beneficial effects of the beetles on a farm in Kaipara just last week.

“I think over 70 percent of the dung, even the fresh ones, had beetles in already, you roll them over and there’d be tunnels underneath it where the beetles have drilled down into the soil and they’ve kind of bulldozed the dung down into it sometimes, there’s be five even eight of these tunnels under each individual pat.”

That farm introduced the beetles five years ago, he says.

“It took five years to build up those numbers on that farm. We need billions of them out there.”

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