Egyptian beetle dinner

12 June, 2011

Dung Beetle rolling dung, South Africa.
Dung Beetle rolling dung, South Africa.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Egyptian beetles for dinner?

Answer: Beetles are one of the most species diverse groups in the world. There are an estimated 350,000 species worldwide with Australia having maybe up to 30,000 species. In addition to playing essential roles in the natural environment beetles have played an important role in many human cultures. The ancient Egyptians considered the dung beetle to be sacred as they believed the act of the dung beetle rolling round pellets of dung was similar to that of the sun crossing the sky.

Another species of beetle of importance to the ancient Egyptians was Blaps polychresta. These beetles wandered the deserts of Egypt and Syria before the time of the great pyramids. They may even have run around the feet of the builders. Historical evidence indicates they were eaten by women in the region to beautify and make themselves ‘plump’ as was the fashion of the time.

This species of beetle was first discovered in Australia in 1930, it is believed that the species hitched a lift on European clipper ships while grain was loaded for export. With no shortage of food in the shape of mouse and rat droppings, their survival on the long sea journey was assured.

After none were seen for 26 years, Egyptian Beetles were thought to be extinct in Australia. Reappearing in 1956, they are now common in parts of South Australia, and populations have also been found in north-western Victoria. A small number of these beetles are currently on display in the Discovery Centre on the lower ground level of Melbourne Museum.

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