The dung ball boogie

A dance on a ball of dung that has got the US airforce all jiggy.
Professor Marcus Byrne of the Wits School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Studies and his team have been studying this dance of the dung beetle and they think they know what it is all about.


It has all to do with navigation, and the beetle’s jive is it orientating itself in the world.

You see, once a beetle has collected its ball of dung it has to high tail out of the poo pile, before another steals it. To do this it needs to roll in a straight line, if not it is likely to circle back.

Through experimentation, Byrne and co have worked out that the dung beetle in this case the species Scarabaeus nigroaeneus uses the sun and polarised light to navigate.

But sometimes the beetle loses it way so it climbs onto it s ball of dung and dances. Having gotten a fix, it carries on its merry way.
The US airforce are in part financing this research.

They want to know how the dung beetle does it. In a time of war, there is a good chance a sophisticated enemy will knockout all their navigation satellites. They need to find another way of finding direction, and polarised light and a jig on a dung ball might just do it.

About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
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