Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dung beetles follow the milky way: Insects found to use stars for orientation

Date:
January 24, 2013
Source:
Wits University
Summary:
An insect with a tiny brain and minimal computing power has become the first animal proven to use the Milky Way for orientation. Scientists from South Africa and Sweden have published findings showing the link between dung beetles and the spray of stars which comprises our galaxy.

The dung beetle is the first animal proven to use the Milky Way for orientation.
Credit: Emily Baird

An insect with a tiny brain and minimal computing power has become the first animal proven to use the Milky Way for orientation. Scientists from South Africa and Sweden have published findings showing the link between dung beetles and the spray of stars which comprises our galaxy.

Although their eyes are too weak to distinguish individual constellations, dung beetles use the gradient of light to dark provided by the Milky Way to ensure they keep rolling their balls in a straight line and don't circle back to competitors at the dung pile.

"The dung beetles don't care which direction they're going in; they just need to get away from the bun fight at the poo pile," said Professor Marcus Byrne from Wits University.

Byrne and his team previously proved that dung beetles use the sun, the moon and polarised light for orientation. In their experiments, they gave the beetles "caps" which blocked light from reaching their eyes. The team also discovered that the beetles climb on top of their dung balls to perform an orientation "dance" during which they locate light sources to use for orientation.

Now, further experiments, conducted under the simulated night sky of the Wits Planetarium, have shown that the beetles also use the Mohawk of the Milky Way -- giving new meaning to dancing with the stars!

"We were sitting out in Vryburg (conducting experiments) and the Milky Way was this massive light source. We thought they have to be able to use this -- they just have to!" said Byrne.

Not all light sources are equally useful landmarks for a dung beetle. A moth keeping a constant angle between itself and a candle flame will move in a circle around the flame. However, a celestial body is too far away to change position relative to a dung beetle as it rolls its ball, with the result that the beetle keeps travelling in a straight line.

The scientists suspect the beetles have a hierarchy of preference when it comes to available light sources. So if the moon and the Milky Way are visible at the same time, the beetles probably use one rather than the other.

A few other animals have been proven to use stars for orientation, but the dung beetle is the first animal proven to use the galaxy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wits University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, ClarkeH. Scholtz, EricJ. Warrant. Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation. Current Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.034

Cite This Page:

Wits University. "Dung beetles follow the milky way: Insects found to use stars for orientation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124123203.htm>.
Wits University. (2013, January 24). Dung beetles follow the milky way: Insects found to use stars for orientation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124123203.htm
Wits University. "Dung beetles follow the milky way: Insects found to use stars for orientation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124123203.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins