Lund, Sweden – A team of researchers from Lund University found that dung beetles take a “snapshot” of the sky to help them orient and be able to walk in a straight line. The study led by Basil el Jundi was published in the journal Current Biology.

Dung beetles get their food from big amounts of poop they detach from piles of dung. The insects shape it into a ball and push it away to a safe place. It is known the beetles roll the balls in a straight line.

Dung Beetles take snapshot of the sky to orient themselves
Researchers found that dung beetles take a snapshot of the sky to help them orient and walk in a straight line. Credit:

According to the study, the insects record a metal image of the positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars and use it to navigate in a straight line. More specifically, the dung beetles have the ability to navigate taking a snapshot of the Milky Way.

Current study

The researchers exposed dung beetles to artificial conditions representing the night sky, placing them in a research facility. They regulated the amount of light and changed the positions of the stars. This allowed them to observe how the insects work with different conditions to navigate. The scientists wanted to see if there were any changes in their trajectories based on the placement of the artificial stars and Moon.

The results showed that the beetles had a one-snapshot approach. Despite the simulated conditions and the changes the researchers made during the experiment, the insects were still able to orient themselves. The beetles kept in their brains the initial shot they took of the sky to walk in a straight line.

But without the stars or other cues, the dung beetles lost their orientation skills. This is evidence of the fact that the stars, the Moon, and the Sun influence the insects’ orientation.

Previous research

Previous studies have found dung beetles orient themselves along a straight line using the position of the stars, but the way how the insects do this was unknown.

Before the most recent study, same researchers from Lund University found in 2013 that dung beetles rely on an internal compass that orients them according to the positions of the stars in the Milky Way. This research could not predict the mechanism that helped the insects enabled the use of the stellar cues.

Source: Current Biology