Humans and dung beetles, according to new research, share a very special skill. Not rolling animal feces up into a ball and jealously keeping it away from others of their kind — that’s just what the dung beetle has in common with your mom. (Zing!) No, like us and birds and seals and no other creature that we know of, dung beetles use stars to navigate.
Scientists started looking into dung beetle navigation because the insects have an uncanny ability to roll their dung balls in very straight lines, away from the dung heap where they collected the feces. They have a strong motivation for getting away quickly — they need to keep their precious dung balls away from other beetles, all of whom are equally devoted dung fanboys, and if they didn’t travel in straight lines, they could loop back and stumble right into a fierce competition over, like, a first-edition elk poo. The researchers found that the beetles navigate much more accurately on starry nights than on overcast nights, and that they primarily use the Milky Way as a guide.
As far as we know, these guys are the only insects that can navigate by the stars. Which can only mean one thing: They are descended from aliens, and the dung balls are part of a secret communication network keeping track of humans’ every mood. It’s certainly the most rational explanation of the beetles’ dung enthusiasm that we’ve seen so far.
- Dung beetles navigate by the stars, The Guardian
Get Grist in your inbox