Clever dung beetles have aircons

2012-10-25 18:43

Paris - Dung beetles wearing tiny silicon boots have let scientists in on a long-guarded secret -- they use the balls of manure they collect as mobile air conditioning units, a study said Thursday.

The ground temperature in the African savannah can reach 60°C, causing most insects to scramble for shadow spots or flee up blades of grass for relief.

But the South African dung beetle has found a unique solution: it simply clambers on top of its lunch, a rolled-up ball of manure.

"The dung beetles climb on top of their dung balls when their heads and front legs become overheated," researcher Jochen Smolka of Sweden's Lund University said of the study published in the journal Current Biology.

A fresh dung ball is composed of the moist manure of a large animal. As the moisture evaporates in the heat, the ball becomes cooler than the soil.

"In principle, the dung ball can serve thermoregulation in three ways: as an elevated platform, as a heat sink, and by cooling the sand," the scientists wrote.

Smolka and other researchers from Sweden and South Africa witnessed that the hotter it was, the more time the beetles spent on top of their balls.

They confirmed these observations by putting little silicon boots on the beetles' front legs to protect their feet from the heat, and found that booted beetles did not climb onto their balls nearly as often as barefooted ones in hot sand.

South African dung beetles roll dung balls away from fresh piles, so as to eat in peace. Some also lay their eggs in the balls.

"We conclude that dung beetles are unique among insects in transporting a mobile thermal refuge - their dung ball," the researchers wrote.

  • phae.rayden - 2012-10-25 19:20

    Very cool!

  • jmokgotlhoa - 2012-10-25 19:59

    "The ground temperature in the African savannah can reach 60°C, causing most insects to scramble for shadow spots or flee up blades of grass for relief." You know you don't eat excrement, you know it is cooler under a shadow, or up a blade of grass, what do you want a dung ball for?

  • gerhardus.windpomp - 2012-10-25 20:33

    No wonder JZ is so cool. He sits on top of the Dung called ANC.

  • jaded.oldfart - 2012-10-25 21:14

    i wanna see a photo' of a dung beetle in silicon booties!

  • sunith.varkey - 2012-10-25 22:19

    Maybe the dung beetles didn't climb up the balls when they were wearing the slicon boots because they couldn't climb with boots on?

  • Jacques - 2012-10-25 23:16

    Genius! I don't like insects, but these things are legit.

  • brian.ritchie.716 - 2012-10-26 08:33

    They also clamber on top to check if they are still headed in the right direction. The other beetle going for the ride is the female putting her eggs in the ball. In decomposing the dung ball gives off heat which in turn incubates the eggs.

  • coenraad.vanderwesthuizen.3 - 2012-10-26 09:06

    This article is just a ball of steaming cr$p!

  • david.reddy.18 - 2012-10-26 11:16

    It shows that even if you are crapped on, you can still have a ball.

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