Subscribe

Dung Beetles Look to Milky Way for Guidance

By Cassie Ryan
Epoch Times Staff
Created: January 24, 2013 Last Updated: January 28, 2013
Related articles: Science » Inspiring Discoveries
Print E-mail to a friend Give feedback

You might expect dung beetles to keep their “noses to the ground,” but they are actually incredibly attuned to the sky. Even on the darkest of nights, African ball-rolling insects are guided by the soft glow of the Milky Way. (Current Biology, Dacke et al.)

You might expect dung beetles to keep their “noses to the ground,” but they are actually incredibly attuned to the sky. Even on the darkest of nights, African ball-rolling insects are guided by the soft glow of the Milky Way. (Current Biology, Dacke et al.)

Dung beetles navigate using the gentle glow of the Milky Way over Africa—the first known case of an animal using this feature to find its way rather than with the stars.

A Swedish-South African research team discovered that the insects push their balls in straight lines on clear nights, but cannot do this when it is cloudy.

When tested inside a planetarium, the beetles moved around just as well under a starlit sky as under one with only the whitish band of the Milky Way.

“Even on clear, moonless nights, many dung beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths,” said study co-author Marie Dacke at Sweden’s Lund University in a press release.

“This led us to suspect that the beetles exploit the starry sky for orientation—a feat that had, to our knowledge, never before been demonstrated in an insect.”

The night sky contains many stars, but most are probably not bright enough to be detected by the beetles’ little compound eyes.

These results suggest other insects might also use the stars to orient themselves at night.

“Dung beetles are known to use celestial compass cues such as the sun, the moon, and the pattern of polarized light formed around these light sources to roll their balls of dung along straight paths,” Dacke said.

“Celestial compass cues dominate straight-line orientation in dung beetles so strongly that, to our knowledge, this is the only animal with a visual compass system that ignores the extra orientation precision that landmarks can offer.”

The study was published online in Current Biology on Jan. 24.

The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.

Follow Cassie Ryan, EpochTimesSci & EpochTimesSpace on Twitter

Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/EpochTimesSci & Youtube: www.youtube.com/EpochTimesSci

Please send any feedback to qa.science@epochtimes.com




   

GET THE FREE DAILY E-NEWSLETTER


Selected Topics from The Epoch Times

Martha Rosenberg