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Would You Believe Dung Beetles Follow the Milky Way to Steer Themselves Away From Competition?

"...they just need to get away from the bun fight at the poo pile."

Dung beetles feed upon feces and use dung balls to lay their eggs. (Photo:

Sometimes it's the little things that are truly amazing. Take the seemingly inconsequential dung beetle. It's just an insect that began it's life in a well formed ball of poo and in its adult life will continue to focus much of its activities on feces sculpting.

But would you believe that scientists found dung beetles are like rudimentary astronomers. Sure they're vision is too blurry to truly make out constellations, but new research from scientists in South Africa and Sweden shows they use the stars to help navigate.

Dung beetles feed upon feces and use dung balls to lay their eggs. (Photo:

According to an article about the research on the University of Witwatersrand website, the researchers found the beetles follow the Milky Way to make sure they are rolling dung balls in a straight line away from competitors at the source of the feces.

“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,” Professor Marcus Byrne from Wits University said in a statement.

The researchers simulated the night sky at Wits Planetarium to observe the dung beetles' behavior and found that they use the light from the stars to guide their direction. The team had previously found the insects used larger sources of light like the sun and moon to orient themselves as well. It is suggested the beetles prefer the larger sources of light, but when they're not available, they can at least use the stars.

To show the beetles relied on light sources to maintain a straight line in their rolling, the researchers put little caps on some of them and found their movement wasn't as properly directed.

This shows a dung beetle wearing a cap. (Photo: Marcus Byrne)

What's more, the researchers have previously observed the beetles climbing on top of their dung balls to "perform an orientation 'dance'" to find the light source they would need to help them navigate in the first place. Watch that action here:

The university reported that while other animals are known to use the stars to orient themselves, the dung beetle is the first to use the galaxy.

(H/T: Science Daily)

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