Dung beetle rolls balls of poo by navigating via the Milky Way

Jan 25, 2013
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Dung beetles are rather disgusting little bugs. They live off the excrement of other animals. Not only do they eat the poo, they also roll it into balls. While I've never considered how a dung beetle would actually go about creating its ball of feces, apparently the insects use a remarkable method.

According to a group of researchers, it's critically important for the beetle to roll the balls in a straight line. For a small insect, rolling a significant ball of dung is a very energy intensive feat. The problem for these beetles is that many of their kind are also thieves ready to steal their ball of poo given any chance.

Apparently, the best way for the dung beetle to keep from getting their ball stolen is to roll it in a straight line away from the pile of poo. Scientists already knew that dung beetles were capable of moving in straight lines away from dung piles. The bugs were able to do this by detecting a symmetrical pattern of polarized light that appears around the sun during the day that humans are unable to see.

However, the question that remained for scientists was how exactly the beetles knew how to make a straight line at night. The moon produces a much weaker pattern of polarized light so the researchers set to work on a game farm in South Africa to see exactly what the dung beetle was doing. The scientists quickly discovered that the beetles were able to roll in a straight line even on nights with no moon in the sky. The scientists discovered that the bugs are able to align themselves in a straight line using the Milky Way. The scientists say this is the first time in the animal kingdom that a creature is known to use the Milky Way for navigation.

[via National Geographic]


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