Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who is eating my chicken poo? Staphylinidae!

I always thought that my chicken poo manure disappeared quickly because bacteria really appreciated its great C:N ratio.  Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen (Hurrah! [if managed properly]).  However, I noticed that there are teeny tiny insects that seem to be eating it, pelletizing it, and keeping my dirt in aesthetic order.  So, it's time to thank some of our less glamorous brethren in the web of lifeinsect decomposers!

But what is this particular beetle? Can you guess? Here are some pics:

Here is another.
Oh, and you need a scale, so this picture shows the lines of my notebook paper. So here is your scale. Kinda.  I measured them later and they look like they are between 1/8 - 1/4 inches.

And finally, here they are dancing the day away...or eating a most unappetizing lunch, in the mind of this humble heterotroph.

Helpful moving bugs of mystery from TheDirtOnSoil on Vimeo.

A friend of a friend, entomologist Josh Bast, says this bug belongs to the Staphylinidae family, common name Rove Beetle. Now, staphylinidae is a huge family, that includes over 54,000 species, so I'm still not sure exactly who these helpful guys are. However, the University of Florida's Entomology & Nematology Department web page has a few facts about the large family:

  • Most fold their wings up very tightly beneath very small elytra*. They are so small that they almost look like part of the thorax* (via Josh Bast).
  • Although none are truly aquatic, they occupy almost all moist environments throughout the world: under leaf litter, inside mushrooms(!), decaying trees, burrows, caves... seashores.
  • Many help reduce populations of insect pests such as mites, biting flies, mosquitoes, and fleas. 
  • Their presence in carrion can help forensic entomologists. 
  • With one exception (Paederus and its close kinfolk), they are not pests.   But even Paederus have redeeming qualities.  Yes, touching Paederus beetles may cause us dermatitis, but their toxin pederin is used for its therapeutic effects. AND some Paederus species are valuable predators of crop pests. 
  • Finally, Staphylinidae form a substantial part of the world's biodiversity.(source link)

Elytra: The hard outer wings of a beetle or other insect. Elytra help protect the insect.
Thorax: The middle section of an insect's body. The legs and wings attach here. 
Definitions courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools.

P.S.  Ooh look: a lesson plan on decomposition!

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that there are insects that eat chicken poo. Thanks a lot for sharing that information.

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