One of the downsides of living in a city is that they aren’t the greatest spots for stargazing. That’s kind of sad for urban dwellers, but it would be a big problem if we were dung beetles.
That’s because dung beetles of one species, Scarabaeus satyrus, navigate using the light of the Milky Way, say researchers from Sweden and South Africa in the journal Current Biology.
Dung beetles got their name because they feed on feces (they definitely count as one of the world’s more disgusting critters). Some species, like S. satyrus, collect their dung into a ball that they roll away from the dung pile, so they can save it for later. The direction that they roll their ball in isn’t too important, but a beetle does want to make sure it rolls it away from the pile and away from potential competitors.
During the day, the insects can use the sun for navigation, but at night it can get a bit more complicated. There’s the moon, of course, but the moon isn’t always out. And that’s when a secondary light source, like the Milky Way, becomes a beacon in the sky.
Image credit: Emily Baird/Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand