Using dung beetles to keep poop in check and other backyard hacks for your dogs

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Dung Beetle
A dung beetle doing its thang. (Photo by: AmyCC BY 2.0)

When we talked about composting pet waste, Offbeat Homie Maria told us how she used dung beetles in her backyard to keep her dog’s poop in check. Of course we were all very intrigued, so Maria was kind enough to let us in on the dung beetle details. Including some other brilliant backyard hacks thought up by her gardening genius late husband…

My late husband Eric was an amazing, enlightened man. I am not sure where he bought the dung beetles, but he ordered them online. He most likely googled the heck out of the best source in the USA for them. A quick search and came up with We had three dogs (including a rescued former racing greyhound) and a huge fenced-in yard.

The dung beetles worked well from the very first day we released them into the backyard from their shipping box — we didn’t have to train them to do what comes naturally. They stuck around the backyard since that was where they found all of the dog poo. They never bothered the dogs, and the dogs seemed to be uninterested in them.

Of course, living in Central Florida meant that we could keep them for years without snow/ice killing the beetles. And it would freak me out sometimes when I would catch a glimpse of the beetles in action — so strange. But again, not shoveling = faaaaaabulous!

Eric was an innovator with our gardening. He studied xeriscaping and I learned a great deal about plants from him. Including planting citronella plants near the back door where the dogs would wait to come into the house. Their wagging tails released the citronella’s mosquito repellant into the air without harming the dogs.

Eric was only a few classes short of his master’s in environmental engineering (and he had taught himself to play the cello) when he passed away from a primary malignant brain tumor. I hope that some of you can get some wisdom from Eric that’ll make you smile when you’re in your garden.

Do you have any clever backyard hacks to share when it comes to your pets?

Comments on Using dung beetles to keep poop in check and other backyard hacks for your dogs

  1. I am so in love with this idea that I seriously want to adopt a couple more dogs just to have enough back yard poo to sustain a colony of dung beetles. Thank you for sharing this, Maria, you are awesome.

  2. Next year I might be ordering me some dung beetles but since I live in PA if I order now it would be money down the drain in 3 months time.

    I think I will get some citronella plants to keep in pots on my back deck near the entrance of my screened in porch to help discourage any buggars following the dogs in and out of the doorway.

    And Maria I am sorry for your loss. I am definitely learning from your late husband so thank you so spreading his knowledge.

    • I love the idea of citronella by the door! My lab’s thick tail would totally release a ton of anti-bug juice!

      I live in WV and I worry about the beetles, I think I need to do more research, and see how expensive they are because it seems like I would have to buy some every summer because of the snow…..

      Maria, your husband = genius!

  3. I’m in California – and just found this article from UC Davis that talks about the ecosystem question.

    It seems to say that dung beetles are preferable to other pests (flies and parasites) good for the soil (improving stability and permeability) , and good for plant growth (because the plants aren’t covered in poop).

    The article talked about cattle farms more then anything else, but if the beetles are ok unchecked in open farm land, then they are probably ok in my blocked in garden too right??

    • The linked article is an interesting assessment of the economic value of dung beetles for the cattle industry, but it is not an investigation of the effects of an exotic species on native species. I would not take that article’s positive tone as permission to release exotics into the ecosystem. Also, dung beetles are strong (if clumsy) fliers and could easily escape your garden.

    • Brief research led to a book that states there are 4 established exotic dung beetle species in Alameda, Humboldt, Monterey, and Ventura counties. These were intentionally established in the 1970s by UC Davis’ California Dung Beetle Project. They released close to 680,000 beetles during the span of the project.

      Now I’m not a professional (still working on my ecology and evolution degree), but I’d say as long as you use one of the established species, you should be ok. Onthophagus gazella, Onthophagus taurus, Onitis alexis, and Euoniticellus intermedius.

  4. I have no experience with the dung beetles, but I do know a little about citronella. I’ve tried to grown citronella the last two summers and failed miserably…and everything grows on our porches. I find citronella to be temperamental. They are the only plants in two years that I have killed 🙁

  5. I would be concerned about ordering dung beetles that are not native to the local environments. This would lead to possible infestation when there are no natural predators to keep the population in check. Think about the damage the Asian Beetles have caused to the trees, Garlic Mustards that have proliferate throughout the forest, and Asian Carps that have overtaken the rivers and lakes.

    • On a second note regarding composting dog poop, I read, sprinkling Rid-X over the dog poop, the same ones use to decompose the stuff in the septic system. Its bacteria and enzymes will break down the dog poop.

  6. I know this works because my dogs poop has been disappearing and I couldn’t figure out today i brought my dog out and stayed out with him for a short while. Then out the corner of my eyes I saw the poop moving. I walked closer and I was astonished to see beetles digging holes and bringing the poop with them.

  7. I have two great danes in PA and I have noticed dung beetles going to town with their waste! Super joyful tree-hugging me is thankful a little critter is helping reduce waste. However, I always feel awful because they don’t roll it, they just lay larvae who don’t eat it quick enough for my neighbors. So whenever I pick up the poo, the larvae are rolling around in it and I feel bad bagging the little natural cycle of waste into a trash bin. Any suggestions on how to let them go but still pick up the poo into some unsightly location for my neighbors’ sake? I don’t want to really kill the dung beetles or their larvae, but I can’t leave cow patties in a regular PA neighborhood.

    • Maybe dig a small hole where you can deposit it, perhaps somewhere in the landscaping that’s not easily seen? Of course this might be easier with small dogs… 😀

      I suppose you could place it under (not human-consumed) bushes or hedges, I know we have some large ones that would easily conceal even great dane-sized waste.

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