Common name: Scarab beetle

Scientific name: Scarabaeus sacer

Species Characteristics

Scarabaeus is a genus of dung beetles. These beetles roll balls of dung and then dig an underground chamber in which to eat them. Females dig a bigger chamber where they lay a single egg inside a ball of dung. The larva develops over about 28 days, and requires rain to soften the hard baked shell of dung in order to emerge. Scarabaeus sacer has specially developed front legs which distinguish it from other scarab beetles. These have four projections which help  to shape the ball of dung. There is also a characteristic arrangement of six projections on the head which resemble rays, and serve a similar function to the projections on the front legs.

Habitat & Range

Scarab beetles are native to the Mediterranean region which includes northern Africa, southern Europe, and parts of Asia. The species Scarabaeus sacer is found only in coastal areas, living in coastal dunes and marshes.

Fascinating Facts

Scarabaeus sacer is the species of scarab beetle that was revered and mythologized by the ancient Egyptians. It was associated with the deity Khepera (also called Khepri) meaning "he who is coming into being", the form of the sun God Ra as he ascended into the sky. The ancient Egytians likened the rolling of the dung ball across the sand to Khepera rolling the sun up into the sky. The analogy of Scarabaeus sacer and the sun god has found support from modern scientists, with the discovery that scarab beetles practice celestial navigation, using the sun, moon, and stars as guides to roll their dung balls in a straight line. The Egytians called the scarab beetle kheper, from the stem "to come into being", and an ideographic symbol of the scarab beetle was used to denote this verbal stem in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Kephera was  symbolised as a man with a scarab beetle in place of the head. The emergence of the juvenile beetle from its hard case of dung was also likened to the emergence of the soul from a mummy, flying up toward the sun and heaven, and thus the scarab beetle became a symbol of regeneration; the daily appearance and disappearance of the sun represented the return of the soul to life. The projections on the head of the scarab beetle were also likened to the sun's rays.

Jennie Harvey, MSc

Jennie has an academic background in biology and ethnobotany and is currently studying for a PhD in cultural geography. She has interests in ethnobiology, biocultural conservation, traditional knowledge for sustainable futures, and African studies.