Why Dung Beetles Dance on Poop: They’re Mapping the Sky


Image: Basil el Jundi/Lund University
Image: Basil el Jundi/Lund University
Out on the African savannah, where dung beetles live, every piece of poop is like a “treasure” packed with nutrients that must be protected at all costs, biologist Basil el Jundi, of Lund University in Sweden, told me.

By Kate Lunau | MOTHERBOARD

The beetles “have to ensure that others aren’t going to steal it,” so they form a piece of poop into a ball and roll it as quickly as possible away from the dung pile, el Jundi said. But, before doing so, they stop for a moment and dance on top of the ball.

It seems like a funny thing to do, when you’re in a hurry. Researchers never really understood why dung beetles would stop and do this dance, but now they have an idea.

In a new paper in Current Biology, el Jundi and co-authors from Sweden and South Africa suggest that dung beetles, who are known to navigate by the light of the Milky Way, are taking a “snapshot” of the sky when they dance—a mental note of cosmic bodies like the sun and stars, that will help them roll their ball in a straight line, and get away from others who might want a piece of their dung as quickly as possible.

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