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Scarabaeus sacer

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Scarabaeus sacer
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Scarabaeidae
Subfamily: Scarabaeinae
Tribe: Scarabaeini
Genus: Scarabaeus
Subgenus: S. (Scarabeus)
S. sacer
Binomial name
Scarabaeus sacer

Scarabaeus sacer, common name sacred scarab,[1] is the type species of the genus Scarabaeus and the family Scarabaeidae. This dung beetle is native of southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, and it was venerated in ancient Egypt.


Scarabaeus sacer was described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae, the starting point of zoological nomenclature. It is considered the type species of the genus Scarabaeus, despite some controversy surrounding Latreille's 1810 type designation,[2] which was resolved by a ruling of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 2014, to accept Hope's 1837 designation of S. sacer as the type rather than Latreille's 1810 designation (of Dynastes hercules).[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Scarabaeus sacer is found in southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. It has been recorded from Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France (including Corsica), Greece, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy (including Sardinia and Sicily), Jordan, India (Kashmir), Libya, Mauritania, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Pakistan, Romania, Portugal, Russia (southernmost), Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Turkistan and Ukraine.[4][5][6] In Europe, much of the distribution of S. sacer is in coastal regions near the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, where it often inhabits dunes and marshes. For example, in the Camargue, it is almost exclusively found in coastal dunes and coastal marshes.[7]


Scarabaeus sacer in coastal southwestern Ukraine

Scarabaeus sacer is a robust, all-black beetle where adults are 1.9–4.0 cm (0.7–1.6 in) long.[8][9] The head has a distinctive array of six projections, resembling rays.[10] The projections are uniform with four more projections on each of the tibiae of the front legs, creating an arc of fourteen "rays" (see illustration). Functionally the projections are adaptations for digging and for shaping the ball of dung.

Like the front legs of other beetles of its genus, but unlike those of dung beetles in most other genera, the front legs of Scarabaeus sacer are unusual; they do not end in any recognisable tarsus, the foot that bears the claws.[11] There is only a vestigial claw-like structure that might be of some assistance in digging. The mid- and hind-legs of Scarabaeus have normal, well-developed 5-segmented tarsi, but the front legs are specialised for excavation and for forming balls of dung.

Life cycle and ecology[edit]

Scarabaeus sacer rolling a ball of dung

Among the coprophagous species of beetles, Scarabaeus sacer is typical of those that collect dung into balls, which also are known as telecoprids. Such a beetle rolls its ball to a suitable location, where it digs an underground chamber in which it hides the ball. It then eats the ball itself, a process that may take several days.

When the female is ready to breed she selects especially fine-textured dung to make her breeding ball, and digs an especially deep and large chamber for it. There she sculpts it into a pear-shape with a hollow cavity in the narrow part. In that cavity she lays a single large egg. She then seals the cavity and departs to repeat the process elsewhere. Typically a successful female Scarabaeus sacer will produce only about half a dozen young in her life.[12] The larva feeds on the ball of dung after the egg hatches.

Scarabaeus sacer serves as the host for the phoretic mite Macrocheles saceri.[13]

Human significance[edit]

Carved relief of the cartouche representing Thutmose III on the wall of the Precinct of Amun-Re, Karnak

Scarabaeus sacer is the most famous of the scarab beetles.[14] 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.[15] They accordingly held the species to be sacred.[16]

The Egyptians also observed young beetles emerging from the ball of dung, from which they mistakenly inferred that the male beetle was able to reproduce without needing a female, simply by injecting his sperm into the ball of dung. From this, they drew parallels with their god Atum, who also begat children alone.[15]

Scarabaeus sacer was the species which first piqued the interest of William Sharp Macleay and drew him into a career in entomology.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sacred Scarab - Scarabaeus sacer". Archived from the original on 2018-07-10. Retrieved 2022-10-24.
  2. ^ Tristão Branco (2007). "Scarabaeoidea (Coleoptera) of Portugal: genus-group names and their type species" (PDF). Zootaxa. 1453: 1–31. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.1453.1.1.
  3. ^ "OPINION 2344 (Case 3590): Scarabaeus Linnaeus, 1758, Dynastes MacLeay, 1819, SCARABAEINAE Latreille, 1802 and DYNASTINAE MacLeay, 1819 (Insecta, Coleoptera, SCARABAEOIDEA): Usage conserved | International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature". Archived from the original on 2019-04-04. Retrieved 2022-10-24.
  4. ^ Zicha, Ondrej. "BioLib: Biological library". www.biolib.cz.
  5. ^ "Scarabaeidae. Scarab beetles; Scarabs; Dung beetles; Flower beetles; Rain beetles; Tumblebugs". Discover Life. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
  6. ^ Lobo, J.M.; Guéorguiev, B.V.; Chehlarov, E.I. (2011). "The species of Scarabaeus Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) in Bulgaria and adjacent regions: faunal review and potential distribution". Entomol. Fennica. 21: 202–220.
  7. ^ Jorge Miguel Lobo; Jean-Pierre Lumaret & Pierre Jay-Robert (2001). "Diversity, distinctiveness and conservation status of the Mediterranean coastal dung beetle assemblage in the Regional Natural Park of the Camargue (France)" (PDF). Diversity and Distributions. 7 (6): 257–270. doi:10.1046/j.1366-9516.2001.00122.x.
  8. ^ Schmidt, U. "Scarabaeus sacer". Kaefer der Welt - Beetles of the World. Retrieved 17 July 2023.
  9. ^ Britvec, B. (2008). "Scarabaeus sacer L., 1758 (Scarabaeidae, Col.) od božanstva do stvarnosti". Entomol. Croat. 12 (1): 83–102.
  10. ^ George Long, ed. (1836). "On the sacred animals of Egypt". The British Museum: Egyptian antiquities, Volume 2. Knight. pp. 286–319.
  11. ^ Arrow, Gilbert John, 1873-1948. Coleoptera: Lamellicornia part 1. Publisher: London, Taylor and Francis. 1910. Download from: [1]
  12. ^ Fabre, J. Henri. "Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos; The Sacred Beetle and Others. Dodd, Mead, New York, 1918".
  13. ^ G. W. Krantz (1998). "Reflections on the biology, morphology and ecology of the Macrochelidae". Experimental and Applied Acarology. 22 (3): 125–137. doi:10.1023/A:1006097811592. PMID 9519465. S2CID 29284819.
  14. ^ Maurice Burton & Robert Burton (2002). "Scarab beetle". Volume 16. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). Marshall Cavendish. pp. 2252–2254. ISBN 978-0-7614-7282-7.
  15. ^ a b Pat Remler (2010). "Scarab beetle". Egyptian Mythology A to Z (3rd ed.). Infobase Publishing. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-60413-926-6.
  16. ^ Eggleton, Paul (2020). "The State of the World's Insects". Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 45: 61–82. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-012420-050035.
  17. ^ Robert Patterson (1838). "Letter V. Order Coleoptera". Letters on the natural history of the insects mentioned in Shakspeare's plays, with incidental notices of the entomology of Ireland. W. S. Orr & Co. pp. 63–76.

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