Scarabaeus sacer

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Scarabaeus sacer
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Scarabaeidae
Genus: Scarabaeus
Species: S. sacer
Binomial name
Scarabaeus sacer
Linnaeus, 1758

Scarabaeus sacer is a species of dung beetle belonging to the family Scarabaeidae.


Scarabaeus sacer was described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae, the starting point of zoological nomenclature. It has since been treated by "the vast majority of authors" as the type species of the genus Scarabaeus, even though strict application of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature would require Scarabaeus hercules (now usually called Dynastes hercules) to be the type species, following Pierre André Latreille's 1810 type designation.[1]

Distribution and habitat

Scarabaeus sacer occurs in coastal dunes and marshes around the Mediterranean Basin. It can be found across North Africa, southern Europe and parts of Asia (Afghanistan, Corsica, Cyprus, Ethiopia, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Sardinia, Sicily, Sudan and Syria). [2][3] In the Camargue, S. sacer is almost exclusively a coastal species, living only in dunes and coastal marshes.[4]

Scarabaeus sacer. Mounted specimen


The head of Scarabaeus sacer has a distinctive array of six projections, resembling rays.[5] The projections are uniform with four more projections on each of the tibiae of the front legs, creating an arc of fourteen "rays" (see illustration). Functionally the projections are adaptations for digging and for shaping the ball of dung.

Like the front legs of other beetles of its genus, but unlike those of dung beetles in most other genera, the front legs of Scarabaeus sacer are unusual; they do not end in any recognisable tarsus, the foot that bears the claws.[6] There is only a vestigial claw-like structure that might be of some assistance in digging. The mid- and hind-legs of Scarabaeus have normal, well-developed 5-segmented tarsi, but the front legs are specialised for excavation and for forming balls of dung.

Life cycle and ecology

Scarabaeus sacer rolling a ball of dung

Among the coprophagous species of beetles, Scarabaeus sacer is typical of those that collect dung into balls. Such a beetle rolls its ball to a suitable location, where it digs an underground chamber in which it hides the ball. It then eats the ball itself, a process that may take several days.

When the female is ready to breed she selects especially fine-textured dung to make her breeding ball, and digs an especially deep and large chamber for it. There she sculpts it into a pear-shape with a hollow cavity in the narrow part. In that cavity she lays a single large egg. She then seals the cavity and departs to repeat the process elsewhere. Typically a successful female Scarabaeus sacer will produce only about half a dozen young in her life.[7] The larva feeds on the ball of dung after the egg hatches.

Scarabaeus sacer serves as the host for the phoretic mite Macrocheles saceri.[8]

Human significance

Carved relief of the cartouche representing Thutmose III on the wall of the Precinct of Amun-Re, Karnak

Scarabaeus sacer is the most famous of the scarab beetles.[9] To the Ancient Egyptians, S. sacer was a symbol of Khepri, the early morning manifestation of the sun god Ra, from an analogy between the beetle's behaviour of rolling a ball of dung across the ground and Khepri's task of rolling the sun across the sky.[10] They accordingly held the species to be sacred.

The Egyptians also observed young beetles emerging from the ball of dung, from which they mistakenly inferred that the female beetle was able to reproduce without needing a male. From this, they drew parallels with their god Atum, who also begat children alone.[10]

Scarabaeus sacer was the species which first piqued the interest of William Sharp Macleay and drew him into a career in entomology.[11]

See also


  1. Tristão Branco (2007). "Scarabaeoidea (Coleoptera) of Portugal: genus-group names and their type species" (PDF). Zootaxa. 1453: 1–31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Biolib
  3. "Scarabaeidae. Scarab beetles; Scarabs; Dung beetles; Flower beetles; Rain beetles; Tumblebugs". Discover Life. Retrieved November 10, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. George Long, ed. (1836). "On the sacred animals of Egypt". The British Museum: Egyptian antiquities, Volume 2. Knight. pp. 286–319.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Arrow, Gilbert John, 1873-1948. Coleoptera: Lamellicornia part 1. Publisher: London, Taylor and Francis. 1910. Download from: [1]
  7. Fabre, J. Henri. "Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos; The Sacred Beetle and Others. Dodd, Mead, New York, 1918".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  9. Maurice Burton & Robert Burton (2002). "Scarab beetle". Volume 16. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). Marshall Cavendish. pp. 2252–2254. ISBN 978-0-7614-7282-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Pat Remler (2010). "Scarab beetle". Egyptian Mythology A to Z (3rd ed.). Infobase Publishing. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-60413-926-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Robert Patterson (1838). "Letter V. Order Coleoptera". Letters on the natural history of the insects mentioned in Shakspeare's plays, with incidental notices of the entomology of Ireland. W. S. Orr & Co. pp. 63–76.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links