Dung Beetles use Stars to Navigate
It’s funny as human beings we feel we are the most intelligent species, but we are most disconnected from our natural environment. A certain discovery like this show that even the tiniest insect like beetle is connected to the cosmos.
The African Dung Beetle uses the milky way as a positioning system. Dung is its most valuable and important resource, as it spends most of its life gathering and living with it. They even lay eggs in dung so the larvae can feed on it.
So it becomes essential that they pick up a dung ball and reach their home the fastest that they can cover the shortest distance. How does a beetle with a brain the size of a rice grain manage to do this successfully even after being disoriented from its original course?
The answer lies in the navigation system the beetle uses to find its way home, similar to bees and ants, during the day the beetle determines its position with the help of the sun. But in the night the beetle uses the polarized light to position itself that we as humans can’t see.
Watch this awesome talk by Marcus Byrn, called “The dance of the dung beetle”
Every time the beetle begins his journey, he climbs aboard a ball of dung and does a little dance on it, this dance is basically the beetle getting his bearings right, it can then plot a straight way home and follow it even with obstacles in its path. They also exhibit traits of thermo-regulation as they cool their feet by licking it when they climb on the dung ball.
Till date humans, birds and seals are the only living organisms known to use celestial navigation techniques, the dung beetle research has opened up the doors to the possibility of nocturnal insects relying on the stars as well.