Science has shown us that a number of organisms use the stars for navigation: songbirds, harbor seals and, of course, humans. But a new study by a team of Swedish and South African researchers published today in the journal Cell Biology indicates that a rather unexpected creature can be added to this list—the lowly dung beetle.
The beetles are known for creating small balls made of animal feces (i.e. dung) and rolling them in straight lines over long distances. They do this because the dung is their main food source—and other beetles often try to steal the dung once it’s been rolled into a ball. The surest way of retaining the valuable dung once it’s been packed into a ball is to move it away from the original dung pile as quickly as possible.
Researchers, though, have long been mystified by the tiny beetles’ ability to roll the dung balls in straight lines at night. “Even on clear, moonless nights, many dung beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths,” said lead author Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden. “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.” - Continue reading atSmithsonian.com.