Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Scarabaeus sacer is a species of dung beetle, found in coastal dunes and marshes around the Mediterranean Basin. It collects balls of dung which it rolls to an underground chamber to feed its offspring. This behaviour inspired the Ancient Egyptians to compare it to the sun god Khepri, and they considered S. sacer to be sacred.
Scarabaeus sacer is found across North Africa, southern Europe and parts of Asia. In the Camargue, S. sacer is almost exclusively a coastal species, living only in dunes and coastal marshes. It serves as the host for the phoretic mite Macrocheles saceri.
The head of S. sacer has a distinctive array of six projections, resembling rays.
Like other dung beetles, S. sacer has no tarsi (usually the final segment of the insect leg) on its front legs, which are specialised for forming a ball of dung. The ball of dung is transported to a underground chamber, and is used to feed the beetle's larvae.
Scarabaeus sacer is the most famous of the scarab beetles. 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.
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.
Scarabaeus sacer was the species which first piqued the interest of William Sharp Macleay and drew him into a career in entomology.
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.