Just before Christmas I went on one of my Tuesday-is-pensioner-day visits to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort. Strolling up towards the top of the waterfall with my eyes pointing earthwards as usual, I noticed something very small moving erratically across the path. Closer inspection revealed that the something was in fact two tiny beetles rolling a dung ball about the size of a small pea. I was keen to get photos showing their size, so there followed a series of antics involving me trying to guess the beetles’ future position along their haphazard progress over the rough terrain, putting a 10c coin down, rapidly focusing in close-up, and hoping for the best. I succeeded in getting a few reasonable pix,.
The diameter of the coin is 16mm, so you can see how small these critters are. It is just as well that nobody saw me doing this, otherwise they would have immediately summoned the authorities and I would now be in solitary confinement in Tara.
I submitted my photos to the ADU Virtual Museum who are compiling a dung beetle atlas, but they have not as yet come back with an id. Internet research indicated that my beetles are members of the genus Sisyphus. I then sent my pix to Marcus Byrne, Prof of entomology at Wits and a dung beetle specialist, whom I happen to know socially. He in turn passed them on to one of his post-docs, who identified them from clues such as size, the location, and the setae (bristles) on the pronotum (back of the neck) as being Sisyphus manni Montreuil, 2015. In other words it is a species which was only recorded in 2015, which accounts for an almost total lack of information about them on the web.
If I had been just 24 months earlier there could have been a Sisyphus mayesii – DAMN!
Big five? Who needs them. The smaller the better.
Post Script. For those who have forgotten their classical mythology, Sisyphus was the guy who pee’d off the gods and got condemned to spend eternity rolling a boulder up a mountain, only to have it slip from his grasp just before he got to the top and roll back to the bottom again. Cool name for dung beetles!
Contributor: Roger Mayes (VM58)