Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The Astonishing Weaponry of Dung Beetles"-New York Times Article ( Highlights and key points) By Claire Wetterer

Last week I was able to read an article on the New York Times Website called "The Astonishing Weaponry of Dung Beetles", written by Douglas Emlen.  In the opening paragraph of the story it describes travelers in Tanzania having a close encounter with upwards of 50,000 Dung beetles.  The source of the attraction for the beetles was a large pile of elephant excrement.  The scientists were swarmed by these beetles, this is the part of the piece that caught my attention, such a large volume of insects swarming.  As the article goes on we can clarify that the sheer amount of beetles converging on the excrement is not what the title is lending itself to, but how these beetles defend themselves :
" It is their weaponry. Scores of dung-beetle species on the Serengeti have no horns at all. But as many as five different horns jut from the bodies of other species, and many of these protrusions are proportionally huge; in Onthophagus raffrayi, for example, the male has a horn that arcs all the way over its head, extending more than twice the length of its body."(Emlen)
The article continues to explain that the fundamental reason for this weaponry all comes down to this 
" extreme weaponry has the same root cause: violent dueling, in which the lesser-armed combatant loses out. But investment in weapons suited only to a single task — matched contests with similarly armed rivals — leaves the bearer vulnerable to attack from new enemies" (Emlen)
  This weaponry is necessary because for a male dung beetles battle is a simple way of life, it encounters many unavoidable fights trying to complete it's necessary acts, mating, feeding and surviving.  The male beetle has many fights which control how he must go about his existence and according to Emlen, these horns make up "thirty percent" of the insects weight. The life of a dung beetle in Tanzania and other places is constantly under siege. ironically the males with the largest horns do not always win in the gene pool. It is the ones with the weapons that do not make it to the next generation
Over time, this end run around the logic of the arms race can completely upend it, pushing the armed animals out of the gene pool. Overburdened and outmatched, animals with weapons eventually die off."(Emlen)".

 At the conclusion of the article, Emlen makes a connection between this lifestyle and  human arms races.
"The Astonishing Weaponry of Dung Beetles" written by Douglas Emlen
Above: an interesting illustration featured in the article by Paul Sahre - Claire Wetterer

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