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Dung beetles in the tribe Sisyphini represent some of the most charismatic members of the subfamily Scarabaeinae (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), notable for their distinctive dung-rolling behaviour. The tribe Sisyphini was proposed to accommodate the genus Sisyphus Latreille. The name Sisyphus comes from the Greek “Sisyphos”, referring to ‘a mythological king subjected to perpetual punishment of rolling a ball’. Members of the tribe Sisyphini are easily recognised by a relatively short body that is laterally compressed and flattened, especially at the sides of the pronotum. The elytra are broad proximally and sharply attenuated posteriorly. The meso- and meta-thoracic legs are distinctly long.

Figure 1. Image of the habitus of Sisyphus (Neosisyphus) kuehni Haaf

 

Sisyphini, like many other Scarabaeinae species, utilise an array of organic matter, particularly faeces of mammals for feeding and nesting. They contribute to various environmental services, such as secondary seed dispersal, control of other insects, dung and nutrient recycling in ecosystems, and subsequent increase of soil fertility. Sisyphini is regarded to be among the true dung ball rollers. The nidification behaviour of sisyphines belongs to group IV, which is characterised by making a ball of dung on the surface at the dung pat and rolling it away over the surface to later lay an egg some distance away from the source. In this nidification group, three variation patterns are observed: (1) brood balls which are buried first then an egg is laid, e.g.: Sisyphus seminulum, S. nanniscus; S. sordidus, S. caffer, Neosisyphus mirabilis, N. rubrus, N. macrorubrus, and S. schaefferi; (2) the egg is laid and then the brood ball buried, not coated with a clay shell, but often with a thin outer layer of soil or dung and soil mixture, e.g.: S. fasciculatus and S. muricatus, N. kuehni, N. barbarossa, N. calcaratus, and N. setiger; (3) the brood ball not buried, coated with a clay shell on the surface and then deposited in vegetation, e.g.: N. spinipes, N. fortuitus and N. infuscatus.

Figure 2. Image of the habitus of Sisyphus (Sisyphus) umbraphilus Daniel & Davi

 

Although, in general, sisyphines mainly feed on the dung of mammals, some specialisation strategies for nutrition have been reported in the tribe. Nesosisyphus species feed on the excrement of the crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) in Mauritius. However, this monkey species was introduced to the Island in the late 16th or 17th century. It is thus suggested that the Nesosisyphus species used to feed on the excrement of birds before the introduction of the monkeys. Furthermore, Nesosisyphus species are attracted to chicken excrement and carrion. Elsewhere, Neosisyphus and Sisyphus were recorded in other sources of food such as (1) carrion: S. schaefferi, S. oralensis, S. submonticulos; and (2) fungi: S. schaefferi and S. submonticulos. Myrmecophily in sisyphines has been observed in S. longipes in Madras (Chennai, India), inside a nest of Pheidole rhombinoda.

From a biogeographical perspective, the tribe of Sisyphini comprises two genera. Nesosisyphus is an endemic genus (four species) from the Island of Mauritius. The most diverse and widespread genus Sisyphus is subdivided into two subgenera: Neosisyphus has been recorded from the Afrotropical (32 species) and Oriental (two species) regions; while the subgenus Sisyphus sensu lato is represented in the Afrotropical (48 species), Oriental (15 species), Neotropical (two species) and Palaearctic (one species) regions.

References

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Cambefort Y. 1991. Biogeography and evolution. In ‘Dung Beetle Ecology’.(Eds I. Hanski and Y. Cambefort.) pp. 51–67: Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

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Daniel GM. 2019. Systematics and Biogeography of Sisyphini (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) of southern Africa. PhD Thesis. University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. 300 pp.

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Daniel GM, Davis ALV, Sole CL, Scholtz CH. 2020. Taxonomic review of the tribe Sisyphini sensu stricto Mulsant, 1842 (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) in southern Africa, including new species descriptions. Insect Systematics & Evolution 51: 1-61.

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Gimo Daniel
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