Look to the Stars

Dung beetle with hat blocking its view of the sky
Image: Emily Baird in Current Biology

Previously, I posted about dung beetles doing a “dance” atop their dung ball for the purpose of orientation. At the time, celestial cues such as the sun were believed to be used for orientation. It is now clear that the dung beetles can orient using the Milky Way and other celestial objects. A paper by Marie Dacke and colleagues in Current Biology describes experiments that demonstrate the use of stars by dung beetles.

Beetles and dung were placed in an arena on a moonless night. Beetles were fitted with “hats” attached to the thorax that either blocked their vision (opaque hats) or were transparent. Beetles that could not see the sky (opaque hats) took a more tortuous path, while beetles that could see the sky rolled balls in a straighter line. The experiment was repeated inside the Johannesburg Planetarium without the hats, but controlling the visible lights on the dome. When the star machine was on, the beetles oriented in straighter lines. Demonstration of celestial orientation in the dung beetle begs the question, “How common is celestial orientation in other insects?”

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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1 Response to Look to the Stars

  1. Liz Benson says:

    This is a really interesting discovery to me. Most of the time, people just look at the stars and enjoy them for beauty, but I love finding ways they are there for a different purposes. I think this fits with a lot of theories about animals being celestially attuned for hunting or navigation. I think the experiment done with the beetles was well thought through and it was good that they compared two different groups to see both effects.

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