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The Daily Bucket is a place where we post and exchange our observations about what is happening in the natural world in our neighborhood. Each note about the bugs, buds, and birds around us is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns of nature that are quietly unwinding around us.

I grew up on a farm in the midwest. Dung beetles were common in the summer in the animal lots. My uncle took great pleasure telling me a detailed story when I was about ten about how he spent several hours one day watching the progress of a certain beetle. He told of how it burrowed into a cow pile, formed a ball, and rolled it to a prepared spot in the dusty lot to bury it. He had such fun telling that story.

The dung beetle is an interesting species. There are 2000 species in Africa and 7000 worldwide. About 90% of the species live entirely in and under the dung pile, never going anywhere else. The remaining 10% roll a ball of dung to a new location. Dung beetles have an interesting niche in the ecosystem where they live. I'd like to share more of the information about them I found recently.

Burrow with me through the orange pile of dung. It's warm, cozy, and smelly below.

As I prepared to ride the elliptical for exercise a few days ago, I went to Ted Talks on my iPad. The talks fit well into the ride and make the time pass quickly. That day I noticed a talk about the dung beetle. It was presented by Marcus Byrne, professor of zoology and entomology at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Among various areas of research, his... has also focused on the unique mechanics of the dung beetle. His research has shown that the dung beetle has a highly effective visual navigation system, that allows them to roll balls of animal dung with precision back to their home, even in the dark of night and the hottest of conditions. Byrne wonders: can this beetle teach humans how to solve complex visual problems?
Watch this short 17 minute video to see for yourself how the dung beetles were put to the test. See how they navigate with their balls of dung. The tests they had to negotiate are interesting. Each one was designed to tell what factor the beetle was using to navigate. Listed are a few highlights to watch for. Enjoy the video. I look forward to your comments below.

  • Dung beetles are good dancers.
  • They see and follow polarized light.
  • They make course corrections if they are forced to deviate.
  • The beetles have a way of coping with high temperature of the ground.
  • Certain dung beetles can do path integration as a compass guide to home.

Tell us about your own experiences with these creatures. Share anything else you want. How is the weather? Is your backyard showing any changes lately? Mine is frozen and getting rain today. The next several days look wet.


Dung Beetle Trivia ... Pick a Favorite.

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