As many of you know, the Curmudgeon’s favorite insect is the Dung beetle, a humble yet noble creature without which we would all be waist-deep in dung.
Today, however, we have extra-ordinary news from PhysOrg: Dung beetles use stars for orientation. Here are some thrilling excerpts, with bold font added by us:
You might expect dung beetles to keep their “noses to the ground,” but they are actually incredibly attuned to the sky. A report published online on January 24 in Current Biology shows that even on the darkest of nights, African ball-rolling insects are guided by the soft glow of the Milky Way.
Guided by the Milky Way! Are dung beetles great or what? Here’s a link to that paper: Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation. Back to the PhysOrg article:
While birds and humans are known to navigate by the stars, the discovery is the first convincing evidence for such abilities in insects, the researchers say. It is also the first known example of any animal getting around by the Milky Way as opposed to the stars.
Your Curmudgeon is in awe. Let’s read on:
[Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden] and her colleagues found that dung beetles do transport their dung balls along straight paths under a starlit sky but lose the ability under overcast conditions. In a planetarium, the beetles stayed on track equally well under a full starlit sky and one showing only the diffuse streak of the Milky Way.
That must have been an interesting experiment to set up. We continue:
Upon locating a suitable dung pile, the beetles shape a piece of dung into a ball and roll it away in a straight line.
Impressive! Here’s one last excerpt:
“Dung beetles are known to use celestial compass cues such as the sun, the moon, and the pattern of polarized light formed around these light sources to roll their balls of dung along straight paths,” Dacke said. “Celestial compass cues dominate straight-line orientation in dung beetles so strongly that, to our knowledge, this is the only animal with a visual compass system that ignores the extra orientation precision that landmarks can offer.“
Star-ships of the future will undoubtedly be equipped with a population of dung beetles. They will be essential not only for sanitation, but also for celestial navigation. Verily, the dung beetle is the key to the future.
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