I was photographing life around a decaying stump, capturing mushrooms, young fence lizards, and a baby toad about a half-inch long. But then I noticed a four-inch, orange sack. And it was pulsing. It was too large to be an egg. What was moving inside?
As I filmed, something made a slit through the shifting wall. Black legs pulled at the veil. Some type of beetle?
If beetles were causing the motion, there must be more than one. The bottom of the sack was pulsing independently.
Here and there, clumsy black creatures started to show themselves. I leaned close with my camera, hoping to get a clear shot that would allow me to identify the insects later. But then my subjects suddenly vanished!
I waited nearby and, gradually, the base of the sack—a fruiting mushroom—began to move. I realized that some of the beetles had hidden beneath the surrounding ground litter, and were returning to the confines of their restaurant. I turned on my video-camera, and was immediately rewarded when a spread-winged beetle landed atop the fungus. These insects could fly!
I filmed for some time, and then repositioned myself for a better view. Now that the glare was off of the screen, I noticed that the red record-light wasn’t on. Doh!
Many fly species lay their eggs on mushrooms. As the beetles tore through the fungal tissue, larvae squirmed and dangled. Should they stay to be devoured or torn? Or plunge to the ground? Those that gave up were quickly gobbled by a baby frog, which had discovered an easy meal.
Before long the mushroom was in tatters, but I could finally get a clear shot of one of the beetles. It was a dung beetle of the genus Copris, and it was carrying a load of translucent white mites beneath its chin. Apparently mites like fungus, too.
Finally, the beetles had their fill and wandered away. I packed up my gear and headed down the path, only to find another beetle belly-up in the sand. At first, I thought it might be playing dead, but miniscule, fly-like insects identified it as a carcass. I turned it over to see what kind of beetle it was. It was a Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus igneus)—another type of dung beetle!