Scientists Reveal Secret To Dung Beetles’ Impressive Navigation Skills

Dung beetles spend their days collecting other animals’ poop to feed on. While they may not seem like the most elegant of creatures, it turns out their brains are impressively sophisticated.

A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the specific brain mechanism in dung beetles that enables them to navigate their environments while simultaneously pushing around giant balls of poop.

Scientists have long known that dung beetles use the sky to navigate. They are guided by the sun during the day and by the moon or Milky Way during the night. But the new research reveals exactly how the beetle brains’ built-in GPS systems use these cues.

“Sometimes in neuroscience we forget that we’re meant to be investigating how the brains of animals create behaviors in [the] real world,” Dr. Paul Graham, an expert on insect navigation at the University of Sussex in England, who was not involved in this new research, told National Geographic. “It’s really beautiful when you get a proper behavior—especially something fun, like a beetle rolling dung balls.”

For the research, the scientists gave nocturnal and non-nocturnal dung beetles their own balls of poop. When the dung beetles began rolling the balls, the scientists manipulated the sunlight using mirrors, to make the dung beetles think the sun had moved locations. They found that both types of dung beetle were fooled and adjusted their course of movement.

But when the scientists used the mirrors to manipulate the location of the moonlight they behaved differently. The non-nocturnal dung beetles were still fooled, but the nocturnal ones weren’t and didn’t change their path. The scientists discovered this is because their internal navigation system doesn’t react to the location of —> Read More