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Overview

Brief Summary

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.There are 3 other similar species of giant carrion scarabs in the subgenus Megaphanaeus found in South America, whose distributions are:

Look-alikes
The most similar species to Coprophanaeus lancifer is Coprophanaeus ensifer, which can be distinguished by slight differences in the shape of the horns and the surface of the wing cases.There is also usually, but not always, a clear colour difference. Coprophanaeus lancifer is blue or purple, whilst Coprophanaeus ensifer is usually green.
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Introduction

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
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

The beetles are able to recognise themselves in the dim dusk light because their metallic colouration optimises the contrast of the beetles against the forest background (Théry et al 2008).Although the brooding behaviour of Coprophanaeus lancifer remains unclear, it is likely to be similar to that of related species that have been studied.Once a carcass has been located, the beetles work in male-female pairs to bury the animal in a burrow.The female beetle then tears parts of the carcass using its toothed forelegs and head, and forms pear-shaped brood masses from the decomposing flesh in an underground chamber. These masses are then covered in a layer of soil for protection and a single egg is laid in each.The larvae hatch and feed in the brood mass, which contains sufficient substrate to allow the beetle to complete its development. Coprophanaeus lancifer is immensely strong and pairs of beetles have been studied moving pig carcasses the size and weight of an adult human (Ururahy-Rodrigues et al 2008).Although the beetles favour vertebrate carrion, they are also sometimes attracted to dung and I have even collected them in Suriname using dead millipedes as bait.
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Distribution

Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru

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Physical Description

Size

Dry weight (biomass)

1656 to 5823, mean 3693 mg

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Body length

27 to 56, mean 40 mm

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Diagnostic Description

Similar to C. ensifer
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Ecology

Habitat

Widespread but locally common in terra firme forest, second growth and bamboo; occasionally in floodplain forest

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Primary and secondary lowland forest, mostly terra firme
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Trophic Strategy

Human dung, puma dung, carrion, dead invertebrates

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General Ecology

Distribution ecology

Coprophanaeus lancifer is found across the Amazon basin and has been recorded in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana.Its habitat is lowland terra firme rainforest, only occasionally in floodplain forest, where it is a nocturnal species with crepuscular flying habits - flying at dawn and dusk - that feeds on vertebrate carrion.The beetles noisily take to the wing around the time of sunset in their search for animal carcasses, which they are able to locate with great efficiency thanks to very sensitive chemoreceptors on their antennae, like all scarab dung beetles.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

It is very unusual for horns to be well-developed in both the males and females of a species of scarab beetle - it is far more common for only the male to be armed.But it is possible to detect small differences in the shape of the male and female horns, especially in well-developed, large individuals.Smaller individuals, having less developed horns, look very similar. However, only the females have tarsi on their front legs, which are diagnostic.The beetles probably enter same sex and mixed sex combats, using their horns to try to gain access to a burrow, as has been observed in a closely related species, Coprophanaeus ensifer (Otronen, 1988).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Coprophanaeus lancifer

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Conservation

This species can be considered an indicator species for primary and secondary Amazonian rainforest. It is not threatened and can be quite common.However, the beetle is only found in forested areas and it depends on the availability of vertebrate animals for its survival.These animals also rely on the forest, so the survival of all these species and their complex interactions with each other will depend on the preservation and conservation of areas of intact forest in the Amazon.
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