|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.|
“Even on clear, moonless nights, many dung beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths,” Marie Dacke, of Lund University in Sweden, said in a prepared statement.Their findings were published online January 24 in Current Biology.
“We were sitting out in Vryburg [in South Africa] and the Milky Way was this massive light source,” said Marcus Byrne, of Wits University and co-author on the new study, in a prepared statement. “We thought, they have to be able to use this—they just have to!”
To see if the starry sky was their guide, researchers set up some ingenious tests for the industrious creatures. Join me below the orange dung ball trail. Clearly, this fellow had no idea where it was going.
Researchers designed special cardboard and clear caps. The cardboard cap kept them from seeing the sky. On a starry, moonless evening, they started the dung beetles with cardboard caps from the center of a ring. The area was flat and sandy, surrounded by a wall. Beetles in a second group were uncapped. A third group wore clear caps. Beetles with no caps and those with clear caps had normal 'straight' paths. Beetles with cardboard caps took longer and had more erratic paths. Apparently they were seeing something in the night sky.
The researchers made a second ring to make sure nothing like trees or bushes were visible to the beetles. The beetles were timed to see how long it took them to reach the outer edge after starting from the center. Straight paths would reach the wall sooner. Wanderers would take longer.
|Bright Moon In Sky||
|Starry Sky With No Moon||
|Cardboard Caps On Beetles||
|Overcast Sky Conditions||
|Stars and Milky Way Showing||
|Only Milky Way Showing||
|Only 18 Bright Stars Showing||
“This clearly shows that the beetles do not orientate to a single bright ‘lodestar,’ but rather to the band of light that represents the Milky Way,” the researchers noted. “This finding represents the first convincing demonstration for the use of the starry sky for orientation in insects and provides the first documented use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom,” the researchers wrote.
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