January 24, 2013

Dung Beetles Use Milky Way to Navigate


Shocker in the Animal Kingdom. The lowly dung beetle is actually an astronomer. Scientists were at first puzzled as to how these beetles would move their dung balls in straight lines - even on moonless nights - and seemingly knew where to go. After extensive research, they found out that the beetles were using the Milky Way.

To test the star theory, the team set up a small, enclosed table on the game reserve, placed beetles in them, and observed how the insects reacted to different sky conditions. The team confirmed that even on clear, moonless nights, the beetles could still navigate their balls in a straight line. 

 To show that the beetles were focusing on the Milky Way, the team moved the table into the Johannesburg Planetarium, and found that the beetles could orient equally well under a full starlit sky as when only the Milky Way was present.

So if we lose the Milky Way... the dung beetles are pretty much screwed.

(To learn more about Dung Beetles... here's a book.)

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