Celestial Navigation of the Dung Beetle

Dung Beetle

Dung Beetle

Your Curmudgeon’s favorite insect — the Dung beetle — is once again in the news. Our last post about these noble creatures was Dung Beetles, Cattle, and Global Warming. But the best was Dung Beetles Navigate by the Stars, and that post links to a few others, including one you shouldn’t miss: Intelligent Design: The Dung Beetle’s Tale.

Another aspect of the extraordinary dung beetle is discussed in this new article at PhysOrg: When dung beetles dance, they photograph the firmament. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The discovery that dung beetles use the light of the Milky Way to navigate in the world has received much praise. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have now taken a new step in understanding the existence of these unique beetles: when the beetles dance on top of a ball of dung, they simultaneously take a photograph – a snapshot – of how celestial bodies are positioned.

O wondrous creatures! But what’s the purpose of such a snapshot? We’re told:

Then they know where they are going and roll off with their ball of dung in a straight line across the savannah.

We love the dung beetle! Let’s read on:

“Other animals and insects also use the position of celestial bodies to navigate, but the dung beetles are unique – they are the only ones to take a snapshot where they gather information about how various celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon and stars, are positioned”, says Basil el Jundi, researcher at Lund University.

[…]

The snapshot is taken when the beetle is dancing, and the image is stored in the brain. When the beetle then starts to roll its ball of dung, it is able to successfully navigate straight ahead by matching the stored snapshot of the sky with the present environment.

How does Jundi know that? PhysOrg continues:

The experiments were performed in South Africa at a facility where the dung beetles only had access to an artificial firmament to orient themselves. Because the sky was artificial, the researchers were able to regulate the amount of light, as well as change the positions of the celestial bodies. Put simply, this allowed them to compare how the beetles changed direction depending on the placement of the artificial sun or moon, etc.

They used a dung beetle planetarium! If you have a subscription, you can read all about it in Current Biology: A Snapshot-Based Mechanism for Celestial Orientation. Here’s one last excerpt about the beloved beetles:

According to him [Basil el Jundi], the results of how dung beetles find their way in the world can become significant in the development of navigation systems in driverless vehicles.

Verily, there is much we can learn from these blessed beetles. It’s surprising that the Discoveroids haven’t yet cited them as evidence of their intelligent designer.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Celestial Navigation of the Dung Beetle

  1. This would all be very impressive, except: why in blazes does a dung beetle need any kind of navigation system? How many specific locations does a dung beetle actually need to get to? Isn’t one dunghill much the same as any other?

    Or do they need to find their local branch of Turds-R-Us? Or maybe, they seek out rallies for US presidential candidates?

    If Klinghoffer had any sense of humour (but I am sure he doesn’t), I’d write him to suggest that rafting monkeys routinely carry dung beetles with them as navigators when they set out to circumnavigate the globe…

  2. Totally cool! So they use the heavens to roll their dung — Holy S#it! But I hope someone came in and cleaned up the planetarium afterward.

  3. Our Curmudgeon enthuses

    We love the dung beetle!

    Olivia has often commented on your affinity with this creature.

  4. Article states

    the results of how dung beetles find their way in the world can become significant in the development of navigation systems in driverless vehicles

    Alas, Audi use a different advertising slogan in the USA (“Truth in Engineering”), probably because Americans are notoriously lazy about other languages. But in the rest of the world, they will only need the slightest modification to their sales slogan, viz.

    Vorsprung dung Technick!

  5. Megalonyx says: “If Klinghoffer had any sense of humour (but I am sure he doesn’t), I’d write him to suggest that rafting monkeys routinely carry dung beetles with them as navigators when they set out to circumnavigate the globe”

    Only this globe? That’s nothing! In an earlier dung beetle thread, I said: 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.

  6. I’m sure the ID contingent would say this dung beetle behavior points to a designer at work but I think we can honestly say to them that in this case their assertions are a bunch of crap!

  7. Holding The Line In Florida

    “New evidence connects dung beetle evolution to dinosaurs”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160504152006.htm
    Aren’t they just cool little buggers!

  8. So we now have a reasonable explanation for the early human migrations. Who wouldn’t follow Dung Beetles and rafting Monkeys just to see where the heck they end up? We all may owe a debt of gratitude to the Dung Beetle for being the first to get the ball rolling!

  9. I look forward with great anticipation to the new Mercedes Dung Beetle 2.0 T SUV and the Toyota Cow Patty Tsi. Happy happy , joy , joy.

  10. Megalonyx:
    “…probably because Americans are notoriously lazy about other languages.

    Waddya talkin’ ’bout, Megs?! We here in America ALL speak a foreign language — English! (Well, except for the 11 million who Donald Trump wants to deport.)

  11. So a dung beetle has a butt camera? Curious to find out how they might differentiate between seasonal changes in the constellations.

  12. I had no idea dung beetles were active at night. As a kid on my grandparent’s ranch, I’ve probably watched hundreds going about their duties, but all in the daytime. Presumably they were navigating by the sun.

    I suppose they get lost on cloudy days/nights. Like they say, sh#t happens.

  13. DavidK, that’s the brilliant bit – they take repeated images of the sky and navigate by the latest one. That’s how they were able to give them an artificial sky and they could still navigate by it.

  14. Fame at last! Now the dung beetles’ navigation has made top-slot on the BBC News Science Page: Dancing dung beetles navigate with ‘sky snapshot’

  15. Megalonyx says: “Fame at last! Now the dung beetles’ navigation has made top-slot on the BBC News Science Page”

    Wait ’til they learn about you and your peculiar habit of rolling around what you insist are merely brown-colored beach balls.