Dung Beetles Use the Stars for Navigation

Dung beetles are dancing on top of piles of dung, staring at the night sky. Why? Their dance is actually thought to be a method of taking a mental snapshot of the sky to store in their brains. The beetles use their memories of the night sky to navigate and to travel in a straight line.

These beetles are not the only insects that use the sky for navigation. Previous research revealed that dung beetles and several other insects use the Milky Way to navigate, but dung beetles use the sky in a more intricate way than we knew before. They are able to capture internal representations of the sky.

According to Basil el Jundi from the Lund University in Sweden, the dung mound dance triggers, like on a camera, a picture of the sky’s scenery to be taken and internalized. The information that their tiny brains capture includes the positions of the sun, moon, and stars. They rely solely on the sky instead of using other cues for navigation.

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Many researchers study biological systems in order to create new and better technology. The dung beetle dance, for example, may help scientists produce better navigation systems for driverless vehicles. If we can understand how animals are able to safely navigate through environments, manufacturers can use the knowledge to improve our current technology. We offer a museum quality framed dung beetle.