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Tourists alerted to mysterious rolling balls of poop in Great Smoky Mountains

You may see rolling balls of poop in the Great Smoky Mountains

From far away balls of poop may look like they move on their own. However, if you look closer you may see dung beetles hard at work.
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From far away balls of poop may look like they move on their own. However, if you look closer you may see dung beetles hard at work.

In what may be the oddest public notice ever issued by the National Park Service, tourists are being alerted that brown balls seen rolling across trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are animated animal poop.

Yes, bear, deer and raccoon dookie is moving, seemingly on its own.

Closer inspection, however, reveals dung beetles, also known as tumblebugs, are the ones behind the balls of “crap,” which they roll around as part of their birthing process, according to a National Park Service Facebook post.

A dung beetle works at rolling a ball of dung across a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“It’s like they always say: “When life gives you crap….roll it into a ball, lay an egg inside it, bury it, and use it to nourish your offspring!” the post explains. “At least, that’s what dung beetles and tumblebugs do.”

Anyone who thinks the canthon beetles are cute should keep in mind they also like to eat poop, according to N.C. State University researchers.

As if to prove beetles are moving the poop, the park service posted a video of one of the bugs using its back legs to roll a perfectly formed ball across a trail. Off to one side can be seen the pile of scat (and a few flies) from which the ball was carefully crafted.

The video has been viewed nearly 10,000 times since Friday, and inspired many puns, from “waste not want not” to “this is a bunch of crap.

Female tumblebugs lay one egg each in their dung balls, so the larvae can develop “without having to compete with their siblings” for nourishment, according to the National Park Service.

“The male will help bury the balls of dung in the ground for safe keeping,” the park service says.

In doing so, the beetles -- which grow to about a 5/8 of an inch -- also do hikers the service of keeping trails free of aromatic decomposing animal dung, park officials said.

The Addo flightless dung beetle pushes a ball of poop 20 times his size.

From 2002-2009 Simmons documented stories on park flora and fauna including elk, brook trout, black bear and other park denizens.

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