Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

Yes, Virginia, I CAN Teach You How to Make a Dung Beetle Trap!

In Coleoptera on April 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

One of the greatest joys of life is having interesting friends, and I can truly say that I have been blessed.  My new friend, Kent Fothergill, knows everything, and generously shares his knowledge with me.  I met him in October, when he was giving a workshop on butterflies (Yawn!!) at the Missouri Master Naturalist state conference.  His name seemed vaguely familiar, and I soon realized that I’d seen some of his dragonfly collection records on the Odonata Central website.

Kent has a way of making anything interesting, (I even enjoyed the butterflies!) and I’m afraid he’s gotten me enthused about beetles, even though I’ve yet to collect my first one.  I’ve ordered several books, and am getting REALLY excited about capturing some dung beetles.

As a child of rural Louisiana, I remember often watching these wonderful little bugs rolling their balls of manure around, and realized that I probably haven’t seen one in decades.  Are they disappearing, or am I simply spending somewhat less time watching piles of cattle poop?

I got three babyfood jars, filled two of them about 2/3 full of Boston Terrier poop, and buried them in my yard, even with the surface.

Filled the other one 2/3 full of human feces (don’t ask!), and buried it, as well.  The idea was that the beetles would be attracted to the bait, fall into the jars, then be too stupid to fly out.

Well, they were either smarter than I’d expected, or the bait didn’t exactly pull them in.

Yesterday, a box arrived in the mail, containing what I like to call a “Fothergill Model A Dung Beetle Trap”.  This thing is simplicity itself, and I just spent a Sunday afternoon making ten more, which I plan to bury all over my place, as soon as the bad weather passes through.  Only one step in the trap construction gave me any problems, and I soon modified the design into the “Fothergill B”.  I fully expect that you will immediately drop everything you are doing, and start putting together a couple dozen of these puppies.  Your spouse, if mine is any indication, will think you are a complete idiot.

I first needed some large soda bottles, of which I had none.  After church, my wife drove me to the recycling center, which is closed on Sunday.  I stepped over the gate chain, and proudly marched up to the “Plastics” bin.  These bins seem to have been designed to discourage 59-year-old men in their church clothes, but “fortitude” is my middle name.  I had to sorta crawl over a railing, then lean WAY down into the bin, but managed to come up with ten bottles.

Take the bottle, and (using your wife’s best pair of scissors), cut off the bottom six-and-a-half inches of the bottle.  Save it.  Then take the remaining part of the bottle, and cut off the TOP four inches.  Save it, too.  You’ll end up throwing away about 2″ of the MIDDLE of the bottle.

Okay, we’re on a roll now.
Take the top portion (the spout), turn it upside down, and drop it into the bottom portion.
Once you’ve pressed the two parts together, you can use a couple of little pieces of duct tape to keep everything together.  I have neglected to illustrate this step.  Use your imagination.

If you’ve been able to follow along, you now have a plastic cylinder, with a funnel leading into the bottom of the cylinder.  NOW, comes the technical stuff.  Kent uses little plastic “condiment cups” to hold the “bait”.  On his prototype, he had fashioned a little spiderlike contraption with a circular area to hold the cup.  I spent quite a lot of time trying to fashion this little piece, and ended up swearing a lot.  You are probably much more adept than I, so you can make the piece out of thin wire, as shown below:

Here’s the point where I gave everybody a cussing, and developed the Fothergill “B”. Instead of fooling around, trying to make the spiderlike thing, I simply took one of the plastic cups and made four VERY small holes at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00.The Fothergill BI then sorta shoved two pieces of straight wire (I used wire cut from surveyor’s flags), one each through the pairs of opposite holes, forming an “X”. As you can see, I then just bent the ends down, to keep the whole mess from sliding off the bottle.

 The ONLY drawback I can see is that the …er…bait will probably get all over the wires, but this ain’t a project for the squeamish.
NOW, pour a bit of CHEAP antifreeze into the bottom of the bottle.  Then fill the bait cup with your choice of mammalian dung.  Take the whole affair and bury it, with the top lip of the bottle level with the ground surface.
The idea is that the beetles will be attracted to the bait, then stupidly fall into the funnel, and die in the antifreeze.  Kent says to check the trap at least weekly, but I’m sure I’ll have to look at least a dozen times daily.  By the way, I saved the tops of the surveyor’s flags (with about 3″ of wire left on) to mark the traps.
Should you anticipate rainy weather, an optional “rain hat” can be constructed, as per Kent’s instructions.  Simply take a disposable plastic or styrofoam dessert dish, invert it, and drive three 4″ nails at equal intervals around the perimeter.

Then use the nails as legs to erect a shelter over the trap, leaving an inch or so open at the bottom to allow entry to the beetles.

 Interesting friends make for an interesting life.  I am forever indebted to Kent for the idea, and for the prototype.
Should you decide to construct these traps (and why WOULDN’T you?) be sure to give due credit, and ALWAYS refer to the apparatus as a “Fothergill”.  I hope that someday Kent will be as famous as Mr. …er…Kleenex.
(Note:  In a subsequent message, Kent informs me that the Fothergill is actually based on the design by Mike Smart, and that the Rain Hat is the brainchild of Ted MacRae [see Ted’s “Beetles in the Bush” blog, linked below.].  Since, however, Kent is the Henry Ford of dung beetle traps, perfecting the assembly line, I STILL will refer to them as “Fothergills”.)
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