News24

Beetle has big balls

2010-03-25 09:15

London - The world's strongest insect is a type of male dung beetle which needs its strength to be able to mate with females in animal faeces, British and Australian scientists said on Wednesday.

Onthophagus taurus can pull 1 141 times its own body weight - the equivalent of a 70kg person being able to lift 80 tonnes, the weight of six double-decker buses. The extraordinary strength of many of the beetles is due to their unusual mating arrangements.

Even weaker members of the species have a compensating trait in evolutionary terms - huge testicles which increase their chances of fertilising a female.

"Insects are well known for being able to perform amazing feats of strength and it's all on account of their curious sex lives," said Dr Rob Knell of Queen Mary, University of London, one of the researchers.

"Female beetles of this species dig tunnels under a dung pat, where males mate with them. If a male enters a tunnel that is already occupied by a rival, they fight by locking horns and try to push each other out."

Bigger testicles

Knell added that some male dung beetles are smaller and weaker, but do not have to fight for female attention due to their "substantially bigger testicles".

"This suggests they sneak behind the back of the other male, waiting until he's looking the other way for a chance to mate with the female," he said.

"Instead of growing super strength to fight for a female, they grow lots more sperm to increase their chances of fertilising her eggs and fathering the next generation."

Onthophagus taurus's amazing feats of strength are chronicled by Knell and Professor Leigh Simmons of the University of Western Australia in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.