Coprophanaeus lancifer (giant Amazonian carrion scarab beetle)

Coprophanaeus lancifer is one of the largest scarab dung beetles in the western hemisphere, reaching a length of up to 5cm.

It is an incredibly bulky and strong insect that is adorned with a striking metallic blue or purple sheen (very rarely green). This beetle is so strong that it is quite impossible to hold a live specimen in your hand.

The species is widespread in the Amazon basin where it prefers to feed on vertebrate carrion rather than dung, which is eaten by most dung beetles.

Both the males and females of this species bear a horn on the head, which they use in territorial fights over burrows with other beetles. The beetles dig their burrows underneath animal carcasses, and this is where the immature stages of the beetle develop.

Other adaptations to this mode of life include:

  • very strong legs lined with teeth that help the beetle to dig burrows into the ground, and 
  • 2 sharp teeth on the clypeus (front of the head), which probably help the beetle to tear at the decomposing carrion and to form brood balls from it

Species detail

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer group
    Taxonomy

    The genus Coprophanaeus contains around 40 species distributed from the extreme southern USA to central Argentina, but most species occur in tropical South America. Find out more.

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer habitat
    Distribution

    This scarab beetle prefers lowland rainforest where it searches noisily for animal carcasses at sunset.

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer
    Biology

    These beetles work hard to defend their burrows, which they dig below animal carcasses and use to brood their young. They are immensely strong and can move carcasses the size of an adult human. Discover just how well-adapted they are for digging.

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer pair
    Behaviour

    Unusually for beetles, both males and females of this species have horns. Find out how they use them and how the sexes can be distinguished.

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer in a pitfall trap
    Conservation

    This scarab beetle is an indicator species for primary and secondary rainforest, as it is dependant on vertebrates for its survival. Find out more.

  • Coprophanaeus lancifer
    References

    Get reference material for Coprophanaeus lancifer.

Images

Coprophanaeus lancifer

Female Coprophanaeus lancifer from the Nouragues reserve, French Guiana.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer

A group of Coprophanaeus lancifer from central Suriname.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer

Large male Coprophanaeus lancifer from central Suriname.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer pair

Pair of Coprophanaeus lancifer from central Suriname. The male is on the left.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer in a pitfall trap

2 Coprophanaeus lancifer collected in a pitfall trap, central Suriname.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer habitat

Lowland Amazonian rainforest, the habitat of Coprophanaeus lancifer. Palumeu, central Suriname.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
Coprophanaeus lancifer habitat

Aerial view of lowland Amazonian rainforest, the habitat of Coprophanaeus lancifer. Southern Suriname.

© Conrad P D T Gillett
About the author
Conrad Gillet
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PhD student researching weevils.

"I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures...and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape of their children and mine, I will escape death. No worm for me nor sordid fly, I will buzz in the dusk like a huge bumble bee. I will be many, buzz even as a swarm of motorbikes, be borne, body by flying body out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un-fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone."

– My intended burial and why, W D Hamilton, evolutionary biologist

Read 'My intended burial and why' in Google books
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