The dung beetle: So much more than just a poo roller

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The dung beetle: So much more than just a poo roller

These overlooked heroes have a multifaceted GPS system, researchers find

Senior science reporter

They might be small in stature, have minuscule brains, and spend their days rolling other creatures’ poo around, but new research by scientists at Wits University has shown how sophisticated the humble dung beetle actually is: when it can’t use the sun for navigation because it’s too high in the sky or it’s cloudy, it has another system that kicks in and uses the wind so that it can stick to the plan.

This is the first time that researchers have proven how this wind compass takes over from the insect’s sun compass at certain times of the day, and the work (in which the Wits scientists worked alongside a group of Swedish scientists) was just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/06/18/1904308116.short?rss=1) (PNAS).

“This is the first study that shows how an animal’s biological compass can integrate different directional sensors, in this case wind and sun, in a flexible way. This enables the highest possible precision at all times,” says Marie Dacke, professor of Sensory Biology at Lund University in Sweden and leader of the research team...

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