It contains about 100 species of intermediate to large size (15–50 millimetres or 0.59–1.97 inches), black or brown, living in the tropical areas of the Old World. Tropical Africa contains about 85 species, with the remaining 15 in tropical Asia. Catharsius are typically short and convex scarabs, with horns on head and forebody of males, sometimes also of females.
They mostly live in grasslands and pastures, occasionally in forests, where they eat large mammals’ dung and use it to make pedotrophic nests in which their offspring develops. A few species shifted from coprophagy to necrophagy, and use small vertebrates carcasses as food for both adults and larvae.
Due to their rather large size and occasional abundance, Catharsius species play important roles in the ecology and soil dynamics of tropical areas. They bury vast amounts of dung into the ground, thus improving the quality and texture of the soils. Also, they contribute to “clean” the surface of the ground, hence their name (from the Greek katharsios “purifier”).Catharsius heros
Important species are Catharsius molossus (Linnaeus, 1758), one of the most widespread and abundant coprophagous species in tropical Asian regions; C. sesostris Waterhouse, 1888, also coprophagous, widespread and common in savannas and semidesertic zones in Africa and Near East; C. eteocles Laporte, 1840, important necrophagous species in Western Africa, etc. Among less common species, C. mirabilis Felsche, 1901, occasionally abundant in Eastern Africa, displays a strong sexual dimorphism making it one of the most spectacular African dung beetles. Catharsius gorilla is a species widespread in the tropical African regions.
An additional group of some 65, much smaller (5–15 millimetres or 0.20–0.59 inches) species, mostly from tropical Africa, is sometimes erected into a separate genus: Metacatharsius Paulian, 1939.
Recently, the name “Catharsius” has been selected by a team of entomologists working on dung beetle fauna of Western Africa.