I have just returned from a field trip to the national park of Doñana in the south of Spain with a group of my sixth form Biology students. We were shown around by Aitor who is a guide and friend. Aitor and I have introduced this area to many groups of students over the years, but this time he took me to a place that we had not visited together before and it was quite an experience. It was the highest point around and he billed it as the place where two “oceans” meet.

In saying this he was using a bit of poetic licence. One ocean was indubitably the genuine article: the Atlantic Ocean. The other was an “ocean” of green trees which, from our elevated vantage point spread out into the horizon. These trees dominated by a kind of pine tree called Pino Piñonero in Spanish and there are lots of them. A recent survey put that number at 75 million.

Apart from the breathtaking views, there was something special about this place. Aitor said it was the place to bring someone “special”, intimating that if your goal was to woo somebody you had your eye on, this is just the spot. I didn´t probe too much but I think that Aitor had done precisely that with the woman he was later to marry.

As it happens, a horse had left a pile of droppings in the sand there so the scenery, good as it was, was not entirely perfect! That dung, it turns out, was alive with dung beetles enthusiastically carving it up into little balls that they could take away. Famously, dung beetles roll a ball of dung which, relatively speaking, is pretty huge. This was the first time I had a chance to look closely at them in action. I had always assumed that the dung was for that particular beetle to feed on but Aitor put me straight on this. The little ball of dung is pushed by the male and it is a “gift” to attract a female and, the bigger it is, the more impressed she will be.

No flowers or chocolates for female dung beetles!

If she is suitably pleased with his offering she might allow the male to engage in a little “slap and tickle” and the eggs she subsequently lays will be deposited inside the gift he has given her. The ball of dung is then buried and the developing larvae feed on it.

I managed to make a short recording of one of these male beetles going about his business. It seems like hard work but nooky can be a powerful motivator!

Here he goes……..

Love is in the air!