Star-struck: Dung beetles plot their course by milky way at night and by the sun during the day

2013-01-25 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Dung beetles use the sun and stars to help them roll their balls of dung as quickly as possible in a straight line.

Wits entymologist Professor Marcus Byrne explains that the insects are capable of using the Milky Way to orientate themselves at night. By day they use the sun, and in cloudy weather they can see polarised light, which humans cannot.

While doing fieldwork at Vryburg in the North West, Byrne wondered if the insects needed to see the starlight in order to navigate.

To test this, he placed tiny hats over their heads, secured with masking tape. “We made sure that no light got through. The dung beetles started to walk in circles. With transparent hats, they moved in a straight line again,” he says.

As long as dung beetles are moving in a straight line, they know they are moving away from the dung pile, where their rivals are scurrying around collecting their own loads.

Byrne says not all dung beetles roll dung balls. Only about 10% of the species in Africa do it, and only a few work at night.

It is possible that other insects use star- and sunlight for orientation.

“We just don’t know. It is easy to do research with dung beetles, because they are goal-oriented. They are really good insects to work with,” Byrne says.

He has previously shown how dung beetles use the wet dung to cool their forefeet and heads when it gets too hot.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.