Dung Beetles Use Celestial Navigation

Animals |


Nature never seems to stop amazing us. The beetle dung spends most of its time looking for dinner. The beetle takes time to roll the dung into a ball for dinner that is after scouring all over for the poop. The beetle then manages to take the dung home by using celestial navigation, rolling the dung till it reaches home. The skills of the dung beetle have been observed by scientists for a long time with a lively interest in its unique navigation technique. Scientists still have not been able to figure out how the beetle manages all this. 

A recent study seems to have come up with an answer to the beetle dung code. The study shows that the skills possessed by the beetles are more impressive than previously assumed by humans. The beetles are able to take a mental picture of the night sky, and then it uses the snapshot to find their way around. Basil el Jundi from the University of Sweden is the lead researcher, he notes that his team was the first to note the beetles’ ability to take these snapshots and be able to store them into their small brains.

The teams placed the dung beetles inside a facility during the study. Inside the facility the dung beetles could simulate a night sky. The beetles were able to perform a funny little dance on top of their dung. As they danced on the dung the dung beetles were able to take snapshots of the positions of the stars, moon and the sun. The snapshot was able to capture the current positions. After the beetle has memorized the snapshot in its brain it then goes about its normal activities of the day. Whenever the beetle thinks it has lost its way, it refers to the mental picture and uses it to compass its way home. The dung beetle then is able to refer to its geographical location based on the location of the moon, stars and sun. This is very impressive considering that the insect doesn’t even comprehend the existence of the stars. 

The dung beetle is able to move forward while rolling the dung until it reaches its home, using the snapshot of the moon, sun and stars as a guide map. The team decided to take the study to another level. They used the artificial sky to determine the probability of the beetle changing its course of direction with major reference to the mental snapshot of the sky they had taken. The study showed that the dung beetles were able to observe a lot of things in the galaxy like the spectral gradient of the sky and polarized light. The beetles were able to use these observations to navigate their new paths. The team that carried the study observed that though it was important to understand how the beetles navigate, these understandings could prove to be very useful in the development of autonomous cars in the near future. Robots can also be created and algorithms that can incorporate into vehicles that re autonomous and able to navigate without human control. The findings from the study were published in Current Biology. 

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Gloria Caputa

Writer and Coffee Addict

Gloria is a veteran in this game, winning many writing contests and being published numerous times for her various stories. She came to work for us because she wanted more freedom with her writing, but also wanted to be apart of a team. She has a deep love for coffee and anything that has to do with the ?60s.