Dung beetles are amazing little creatures who do amazing things when eating their not-so-amazing food. A recent study explains how, once a dung beetle finds a piece of food it wants to eat out of the dung pile, it first rolls it in a ball, then looks up at the starry sky and takes a memory snapshot of the way the stars are aligned. Why?
According to Christian Science Monitor, the dung beetles appear to use the stars to figure out where to eat their little ball of food. To test their theory, scientists made their own starry sky over the dung beetles and watched what happened.
Once a dung beetle sees its food – quickly, before another dung beetle spots – it shapes the dung into a tiny ball for a quick getaway.
The second part of the food process for dung beetles is a little weird, even for them. Once their food is shaped into a tiny ball, the beetle performs a “dung dance” by climbing on top of the ball of food and circling around its axis. This is when the process gets really interesting – the dung beetle sits on top of the ball and looks at the stars to take a “snapshot” to decide where to go to eat. After all of this happens, they get off the ball and roll it away in a straight line to their destination to enjoy their nice meal of … well, you know their name.
The scientists studying the dung beetles tweaked the stars brightness a little while the insects were doing their “dung dance.” However, this tweaking did not appear to alter the dancing.
According to the research study, dung beetles are not the only animals who take “snapshots” of their surroundings. Ants memorize their physical locations, birds use the stars to make sure they are going the right way and bees use the sun and the moon to determine their location.