THE BUFFALO, THE BEETLE, THE BOUNCING KANGAROO AND THE BUFO MARINUS CANE TOAD
(Howard L. Kaplan)
To understand the impact of the creature that says "moo"
Upon the island continent, one must consider too
The buffalo, the beetle, the bouncing kangaroo,
And the Bufo marinus cane toad.
For purpose of discussion, we will say this story starts
When a buffalo in Africa lifts up its tail and farts.
The whiff of gas that passes lets some scarabs know an ung-
Ulate has likely stopped a moment to release a pile of dung.
The beetles set their windward course before the ground is hit
By the pungent, fresh constituents of several pounds of shit;
The leavings, rich in cellulose, of what the beast once ate
Provide the food and space to brood, so beetles start to mate.
The rollers and the dwellers and the tunnelers invade,
Continuing a cycle that Egyptian art portrayed.
The rollers push their dung away to gain a bit of space;
The tunnellers drag theirs beneath; the dwellers nest in place.
Though individually small, they transport ton by ton
And bury dung that otherwise would bake hard in the sun,
While mites that hitch a ride on beetles' bodies start to eat
The eggs of flies that otherwise would for the dung compete.
If you're a biophysicist, then you can calculate
That beasts can't move efficiently above a certain weight
By hopping on their hind legs, and the mass this rule allows
Means kangaroos cannot evolve to be the size of cows.
In consequence, the dung they leave is golf-ball sized, or less,
And so Australia's coprophagous fauna could address
Itself to handlng the smaller forms of pre-digested leaf,
But not the kind that's left behind by half-ton hunks of beef.
The settlers who brought cattle to Australia many years
Ago did not consider just how cow dung disappears,
And so the growing, lowing herds left calling cards around
Which, sun-baked and inedible, were occupying ground
Until eroded by the weather, trampled under hoof,
Or taken by the termites to form floor and wall and roof,
Eventually, despite the fact that Murphy tends to win
When people meddle, hexapedal livestock was brought in.
Not all the coprophagous species introduced so far
Are forming useful colonies. Among the ones that are,
Onthophagus gazella, found in Queensland, flies at night,
When cane toads lurk at dung pads to consume those who alight.
These toads, of course, have been of not much use protecting canes,
While threatening survival of some beneficial strains.
Perhaps a daylight flyer should assume gazella's role,
Or else one tough and fierce enough to fight when swallowed whole!