Jan
21
2009

You know, “millipede-eating grin” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

He's not eating it: He just thinks there's a millipede inside.
He's not eating it: He just thinks there's a millipede inside.Courtesy abmiller99
There’s an expression that I like… it describes a certain kind of broad, smug, and possibly insincere smile, but one of the words in it is altogether naughty. I am, if nothing else, sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of Buzz’s readers, and I hold the image of the Science Museum of Minnesota in the highest regard. And even though I do not write as a representative of the museum*, it would be a true blow to my childlike heart to see profanity on one of its webpages. (Especially if I were the one to put that profanity there in the first place.)

And so we will tiptoe around this expression, carefully, carefully… like careful cats.

The expression rhymes with “Spit-sleating gin.” Or “kit-beating kin.” Or maybe “wit meeting sin.”

Oh, what’s a good, inoffensive way to put it? Hmm. It has to do with the sort of expression of happiness you might wear if you had just finished eating a pile of poop, especially if you think someone else wanted some of that poop but didn’t get any before you polished it off, or maybe if you didn’t want anyone to know you had eaten the poop in the first place, and so were perhaps overcompensating in trying to look like your normal, smiley self.

Was that good? I think that was perfect.

Anyway, this expression was originally invented to describe the way dung beetles look pretty much constantly. Dung beetles eat poop all the time—some of them eat only poop—and for some reason they have the idea stuck in their heads that it’s a tremendously valuable commodity (little do they know, eh?), so they always have this big ol’ “look what I got, son” smile on their faces. You have to use a magnifying glass to see it, but the smile is there.

While this expression has since fallen into broader use, it seems that its original application is … decaying, if you will. It seems that not all dung beetles eat dung! Ah! Dogs and cats, living together!

That’s right—in the depths of the Amazon jungle, there’s a recently discovered species of dung beetle that has traded its hilarious culinary habits for something a little more awesome: hunting, maiming, decapitating, and eating big, toxic millipedes.

Researchers baited traps in the jungle with a whole variety of dung beetle foods—dung beetles love dung, so that was there, obviously, but some species will also snack on other items, like rotting fruit, fungus, dead animals, and, occasionally, millipedes. The scientists caught 132 species of dung beetles in the traps, but only one exclusively ate the millipedes. No poop for these beetles, or even dead millipedes—they were hunters.

The researchers closely examined the peculiar beetles, and noticed a couple tiny, yet important differences from similar looking species: the hunting beetles had elongated hind legs (trading their dung-rolling function for something a little more suited to grappling with prey), and modified jaws and teeth, for chewing open millipede exoskeletons.

The scientists think that the no-dung dung beetles have undergone speciation. That is, they have evolved into a new species in adapting to the pressures of their environment. See, it seems that dung really is a little scarce on the floor of the Amazon jungle, and some dung beetles moved on to different food sources (millipedes), to the point where they only ate that new food, and became distinct (albeit in small ways) from their old kin. So, while there is one less creature that can truly wear a zit-heating pin, I guess that the Amazonian dung beetles that still eat dung have a little more to grin about these days. It kind of balances out, doesn’t it?

*No, really, I don’t write as a museum representative. Watch: I kind of enjoyed Waterworld. Does the museum think that? Nope. Nobody thinks that, and my writing it doesn’t change the fact.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I kinda like Waterworld.

posted on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 10:31am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yeah... Me too, I suppose. It's like a damp Mad Max.

But, still... who likes Waterworld, you know?

posted on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 10:44am
bryan kennedy's picture

Maybe just like these little beetles (and Kevin Costner in Waterworld) we are undergoing speciation.

posted on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 10:53am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Uh oh. We have to find some girls who like Waterworld, or our kind is in serious trouble. I may be beyond the point where I can create viable offspring with a non-Homo waterworldius.

You know what I just realized? In that movie, K. Costner is referred to as an "Ichthy sapien." That means that he hasn't just speciated (is that a word?), he has formed an entirely new genus. There's a lonely life.

Either that or the wise old dudes of the future have lost their grip on Linnaean taxonomy.

posted on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 12:07pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

You can't quibble with the science of the anti-smoking message in Waterworld.

posted on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 11:35am
supa hottie's picture
supa hottie says:

wow!!!!!! this is for my project i am doing, the facts r weird, but interesting!!!!!!!! :( :)

posted on Thu, 04/02/2009 - 3:01pm

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