How Can Magazine A Feature Effectively Engage An Audience Using Science?

Douglas Emlen’s article “The Astonishing Weaponry of a Dung Beetle” is an interesting take on the modern-day arms race that constantly floods and consumes news reports all around the world. Emlen takes an interesting approach to tackle the issue of our contemporary arms race by using a bug, the Dung Beetle as an analogy. It must be recognized the Dung Beetle is not just any bug, but it is a bug that literally feeds on dung. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dung as “the excrement or feces of an animal.” Emlen’s use of the Dung Beetle as an analogy to describe the shitty-ness of the contemporary and historical arms races, one in which we seek to create weapons capable of annihilating each other in a matter of seconds is spot on.

When Emlen recounts his tales of 50,000 Dung Beetles converging upon a pile of dung to feed on and inevitably crawling on him and his peers in Tanzania he describes the battle amongst the Dung Beetles as “an epic struggle of wills.” This epic struggle of wills is later explained as the various ways in which Dung Beetles will fight each other to see who can be victorious and take home food or a female Dung Beetle to mate with. That’s right not only do Dung Beetles fight with each other over food, but they also fight because potential female mates will follow the breadwinners home.

By explaining the scientific names for various types of Dung Beetles and the processes by which they mate and feed readers are tempted to shut off their computer or flip to the next page of the magazine in search of something better to read. Emlen knew this would happen when writing a piece of literature comparing Dung Beetles to the modern day arms race. He cleverly brings an audience who came to read about politics and the arms race back into reality and away from the Dung Beetle analogy by referencing real-world instances of the arms race taking a toll on modern-day American society. From the battleships of the Mediterranean, the Cold War and eventually to recent hacking of the American fighter jet blueprints by the Chinese in 2007. Emlen believes that the arms race issues that humans face are not too different from the arms race that Dung Beetles face when growing out their horns so they can fight each other for food and women. The lesson that Emlen wishes to impose upon his politically savvy readers is brought out by his strange and effective analogy of the Dung Beetles fight to survive.