Navigating By The Milky Way

Navigating By The Milky Way


Africa. A dung beetle. One of the coolest bugs alive in my mind.    Not only do they eat, breed and mate in dung, they are depicted throughout Egyptian history (the scarabs shown in ancient paintings), are the subject of an Aesop fable (The Dung Beetle and Eagle), and have recently been featured in studies on their GPS capabilities. Plus, they play an important role in agriculture. Wow.

So here we have a dung beetle, on a road in Africa, rolling his ball of dung as fast as he can so robber beetles don’t steal it (and his girl, as the female often goes along with the ball). I’m not sure what I was thinking when I took this picture 5 years ago. Little did I know it would turn into one of my many new fascinations!

This species of dung beetle (there are over 6,000 different species) harvests material from a fresh dung pile and shapes it into a ball. Then he rolls it away before some bigger beetle steals it? And he must roll it in a straight line, otherwise he just goes around in circles which invites robbers. New studies show, at night, they use the Milky Way as a guide making it the first known animal species to use a celestial compass.

And they are very important in agriculture. Australia imported 23 species of beetle to clear dung from the fields which keeps the fly population down and off the cattle. Basic animal husbandry. They also improve soil structure by recycling nutrients. Who would have thought? Oh and by the way, they are the strongest insect alive. Amazing.