A dung beetle feeds on pig manure bait.
A dung beetle feeds on pig manure bait.

Dung beetles, sometimes called nature's pooper scoopers, could help suppress harmful foodborne pathogens in the soil.

Washington State University entomologists plan to conduct research on 45 farms in Washington Oregon and California to examine the relationship between dung beetles' activities, farm management practices and the natural suppression of human-pathogenic E. coli.

Even if you fence your fields, animals can burrow under or jump the barriers, leaving droppings behind.

“Every vegetable grower struggles with this issue regardless of management practices,” Bill Snyder, professor of entomology, said in a news release. “It’s a wide open area where there is a hunger for more information and not a lot of good information out there.”

Doctoral student Matt Jones will lead the three-year investigation into what he called an "ecologically based cleanup crew."

Not all dung beetles are created equal, either.

Different species have evolved to handle the poop from different animals.

Regardless, the beetle feeds on, lives in and lays its eggs in animal feces.

Jones will collect data at organic, conventional and integrated livestock/produce farms about dung beetle species, distribution and how quickly they consume animal feces.

The goal of the research is to provide new and long-time growers with tools to help improve the natural suppression of human pathogens on the farm. It also is hoped to provide science-based data to the debate on food safety practices.