In the lower South-East of South Australia, adults of Aphodius tasmaniae Hope, which is an economic pest of improved pastures, emerge from the soil 2–3 days after rain has fallen in summer. The females may lay two batches of eggs. The first batch (about 35 eggs) is developed at the expense of the fat-body and is laid 3–6 days after emergence; a second batch (about 20 eggs) can be developed and laid after the female has fed on dung.
The beetles are crepuscular and fly after sunset if the weather is suitable for flight. The first batch of eggs may or may not be laid before flight, depending on the weather. Until the fat-body is largely depleted, beetles fly with the wind and are attracted to lights, but after that stage has been reached they fly upwind to dung and are not attracted to lights. After feeding on dung for a few days the females become gravid again, and apparently change their responses to light and wind once more. The distribution of larvae in the field suggested that adults aggregated and laid eggs in specific places. The factors which promote aggregations of adults were therefore studied.
The survival-rate of the females and the number of eggs they laid in two soils, a sand and a clay loam, were related to the ‘available water’ in soil as measured by the pF scale. Females survived in largest numbers and laid most eggs in the range of pF 2·8–3·2 in both soils. Similarly, when given a choice of a number of water contents in soil, beetles aggregated in largest numbers within the range 2·8–3·2 in one soil and pF 2·8–3·5 in another. In the latter soil, however, the pF values that were tested were more widely spaced, and it is suggested that the combined data are only intelligible if there was an optimum range of pF within the vicinity of 2·8–3·2 in both soils. These and other experiments indicated that moisture in soil was the major factor capable of' promoting aggregations of adults.
When water was not limiting, aggregations of beetles occurred on loose as opposed to compact surfaces. However, ‘shelter’ (dry grass stems broken off the parent plant, dung, etc.) was capable of promoting aggregations even if the soil underneath ordinarily inhibited burrowing. Aggregations of beetles also occurred on surfaces into which other beetles had previously burrowed; this was probably due not to any attraction of beetles to other beetles, but to loosening of the surface soil by the original beetles, which permitted later arrivals to burrow rapidly.
It is probable that the patchy distribution of larvae in the field is due to the aggregation of the adults in the field mainly in relation to moisture in soil, type of surface and shelter. It is also suggested that aggregations of larvae that occur around conspicuous objects, such as trees, result from beetles colliding with these objects by chance when they are flying after dark, dropping to the ground and burrowing into the soil to lay eggs there.