Galactic dung beetles


I never thought we could connect cosmology and critters, but then science does continue to amaze.
Celestial navigation has guided man around the world for several thousand years. From Columbus to Drake to De Gama, the stars showed them the way. Even I can safely use the sun to know whether I am driving north, south, east or west. But a new study suggests it could also be guiding dung beetles.

Marie Dacke, a zoologist at Sweden’s Lund University, studies the way animals navigate. In a study online this week in Current Biology, she and a team of researchers looked into the surprisingly sophisticated navigational habits of the dung beetle, finding that they too have their eyes on the skies. Dung beetles like to maintain straight lines as they run. As they’re going about their beetle business, when a pile of droppings catches their eye, they roll it into a ball and, walking backward, push it somewhere safe to eat. A straight course ensures they don’t return to the fierce competition back at the dung pile. Researchers placed African ball-rolling dung beetles in a planetarium, and found they could navigate just as easily with only the Milky Way visible as with a full starlit sky. Under overcast conditions, the beetles lost their way. Nocturnal beetles can stay their course even on moonless nights, guided by the stars.

Birds and seals have also been known to use the stars for navigation, but this is the first time insects have been found to use them for the same purpose. It’s also the first documentation of animals using the Milky Way specifically. And they have been doing this long before mankind worked it out.


6 comments on “Galactic dung beetles

  1. Who knew that even insects could use the stars to navigate? It is very interesting to see that the beetles can use the glow of the Milky Way to walk in a straight line even with such poor eyesight. There are probably many other insects that use this type of navigation.


  2. I knew animals were very intellogent but i did not know that some have the capability of using the stars for navigation. Its also crazy how zoologist can figure these kinds of things about animals.
    Hugo Anguiano


  3. I had no idea animals had such knowledge as to use the stars as guides.It was an interesting research but more amazing is the discovery, and they could even navigate on a moonless night, I cant imagine how they do that to follow the stars when they are so many in the sky.


  4. I thought this was so interesting that I shared it with my eleven year old son. He loved it! Something cool to tell the guys at school tomorrow. I loved the fact that it shows that man has more in common with earth’s other inhabitants than we thought and that we still have a lot to learn from all kinds of life on this planet.
    Lynn Guest


  5. I did not know animals besides humans use the stars to navigate! Next time I have trouble telling direction, ill try tapping into my animal instinct. This story is really interesting. I have learned dung beetles are more than meets the eye… or nose.
    Natalie Cannon


  6. It is interesting to know that birds and seals use stars for navigation. All the research that the zoologist did at Sweden’s Lund University was really interest. The way zoologist did the research into the surprisingly sophisticated navigational habits of the dung beetle was great. I think this was a great research because they found out what animals use to navigate.
    Yessenia Marquez


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