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How Dancing Dung Beetles Capture 'Sky Photographs' To Navigate The World

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When dung beetles dance, they take photos of the Milky Way and navigate the world, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Lund University relied on previous knowledge that dung beetles use the Milky Way light as their guide. They found that while these beetles dance on dung, they also capture an image of the position of the celestial bodies.

As soon as they have captured and processed the photograph, the dung beetles will follow a straight path across the grasslands.

Lund University researcher Basil el Jundi said this particular strategy has helped the dung beetles to orient themselves in the world. He explained that the beetles store the images in their brain and navigate their path by correlating the celestial scenery to their present environment.

"We are the first to have shown that dung beetles are taking these snapshots. We are also the first to show how they store and use the images inside their tiny brains," he said.

Jundi went on to say that dung beetles are unique in the sense that they are the only ones, of all the animals and insects, to take an image of their guide to navigation that includes the position of heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon and stars. He added that while ants also take snapshots, the images do not include the sky and the celestial bodies, but only that of Earth and its surroundings.

For their study, the researchers conducted an experiment in a facility in South Africa wherein artificial skies and celestial body positioning were regulated and correlated with the beetles' change in direction.

As to why dung beetles roll off before going on a path is something they cannot explain yet. Jundi postulated that the beetles are also getting more information as they spin or rotate in the air.

As for the significance of their discovery, Jundi said this navigation technique would be beneficial in the development of driverless cars. In the past, beetles from Southern Africa have also been found to inspire scientists to develop car windshields and airplane parts that can work even in freezing temperatures.

The study was published in Current Biology on May 12.

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