Dancing Dung Beetles Take A Snapshot Of The Sky To Navigate

Posted: May 14 2016, 12:43am CDT | by , Updated: May 14 2016, 4:51pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Dancing Dung Beetles Take a Snapshot of the Sky to Navigate
Credit: Basil el Jundi

Dung beetles dance on the top of the ball of dung and use positions of celestial bodies to find their way.

Scientists already know that dung beetles use Milky Way light for navigation. As they roll down dung into round balls, they take help from celestial bodies to find their way around in the world. 

Now, researchers from Sweden’s Lund University have taken a step forward in terms of understanding their unique process and have found that dung beetles take just a single ‘photograph’ of sky to get clues and to move forward.

“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 make a snapshot where they gather information about how various celestial bodies, such as sun, moon and stars are positioned.” Basil el Jundi from Lund University said.

Snapshot is taken while beetles are dancing around on the dung. Then, they store image in the mind and set off, synchronizing the stored picture with present environment. 

“We are the first to have shown that dung beetles are taking these snapshots. We are also the first to show how they store and use the images inside their tiny brains.”Basil el Jundi said.

Dung beetles, as the name suggests, feed exclusively on dung, roll it into balls and push it towards a safer place. So, basically the process is like: beetles dance on the top of the dung ball, seemingly to orientate themselves before moving forward in a perfectly straight line.

“They will maintain this straight line until they find a suitable place for underground consumption of their dung. Because the straight line is the best way to ensure they escape fast and don’t accidently comeback.” Basil el Jundi explained.

The observations were made during an experiment to work out the exact process. The experiment was performed in South Africa where beetles only had artificial celestial bodies and sky to navigate. Since the sky was artificial, researchers were able to adjust light and change the positions of objects. This helped them find how beetles change their direction with the movement of sun, moon or other celestial objects.

Dung beetles are the only known non-humans to snap the image of sky and use it for navigation purposes. Ants also take snapshots but of their surroundings instead of sky. Nevertheless, mysteries are still prevailing around the process.

“There is no understanding of what the clues mean in this method. It’s as if they take a snapshot of all these celestial clues and then match them to the prevailing visual scenery in the sky as they move.” Basil el Jundi said.

Next, researchers are aiming to find how the process works and which part of the brains is responsible for storing the image. These findings can help develop navigation systems in driverless cars of future.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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