This morning while I was on the treadmill my mind wandered in random directions as it usually does when I’m running. I thought about insects and the cognitive feats they have to do each day. I’ve written about bees a number of times, but what about other bugs? Suddenly I thought about dung beetles and how they roll balls of…well, poop.
Think of all the effort needed to roll a ball that is bigger than yourself! And dung beetles don’t roll the balls in just any old direction, do they? Where do they go with them? How do they do it?
I did a bit of reading. I discovered that dung beetles roll balls of dung with their back legs. So their back end is in the air and their head is down while they roll!
Here are some other cool things about dung beetles:
- They always roll their ball in a straight line. Even if they run into obstacles, they are able to re-orient themselves so they keep going straight.
- How do they re-orient themselves? They climb on top of the ball and do what looks like a little dance: they scuttle around their vertical axis. This helps them use cues, like the position of the sun, to keep rolling in one direction.
- Why do they roll their ball in a straight line? So they can move far away from the pile of dung where they got their ball. If they hang around the dung pile, other dung beetles are likely to try to steal their dung ball, rather than cut off a piece of dung and make their own ball.
- At night, dung beetles can’t use the sun to orient themselves, so they use the moon and the Milky Way to tell direction.
Pretty awesome for a little critter! We’ll just disregard the fact that they actually eat the, uh, dung (blech…).
Baird, E., Byrne, M., Smolka, A., et al. (2012). The dung beetle dance: An orientation behaviour? PloS ONE, 7(1), e30211.