Up Close And Personal With The Dung Beetle

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It's Animal Week on Fresh Air; during these last days of summer, we're featuring rebroadcasts of our best conversations about animals and how we live with them.

Underneath the cow patties in the pasture and the monkey dung in the jungle lies a miniature world of sex and violence. Here, ornately decorated beetles — armed with massive horns — fight for survival and sexual dominance. Douglas Emlen, a professor of biology at the University of Montana, studies them.

Emlen is an expert on the evolution and development of bizarre or extreme shapes in insects, and he's particularly interested in insect weaponry.

Much of his work takes place in a lab, but he has also had some wild adventures collecting different families of dung beetles from around the world.

Emlen joins Fresh Air host Terry Gross to talk about those adventures — and the surprisingly interesting creatures at the center of his research.

This interview was originally broadcast May 4, 2009.



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