Rolling poop balls prove nature is weirder than you think

Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park​ are seeing dung that seems to be self-driving.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton

Tumblebugs roll balls of animal poop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The National Park Service has alerted tourists that the brown balls they might see rolling down trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are of animal poop. But despite appearances, they aren't moving all by themselves. 

It seems that dung beetles, commonly known as tumblebugs, are transporting animal scat as part of their reproductive cycle.

"The female tumblebug will lay only one egg inside each ball of dung, allowing the developing larvae to have all the resources they need without having to compete with their siblings," reads a Facebook post from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. "The male will help bury the balls of dung in the ground for safe keeping."

While the idea of tumblebugs rolling poo around to survive might seem kind of gross, the accompanying Facebook video makes the insects look both adorable and industrious. 

Their labor-intensive ritual also keeps the trails free of smelly decomposing animal dung, so hikers won't have to sidestep poop on their walks. Thank you, tumblebugs, for your crappy service. 

Added the Great Smoky Mountains National Park post, added. "Dung beetles and tumblebugs do us a great service by keeping the trails clean and aiding in decomposition." 

Insects like you've never seen them before (pictures)

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Originally published Aug. 26.