Dung beetles may be gross, but they’re plenty smart too. According to a new study from Lund University in Sweden, the animals use the location of the sun, moon, and stars so they can take their dung along on a straight line.
This means dung beetles are probably the only animal that can make use of celestial cues to navigate from one point or another; that was previously proven by a team of Lund University researchers in 2013. But researchers from the same institution have figured out why they navigate based on star positioning in a new study published this week.
Dung beetles, as their name suggests, feed on excrement, which they shape in the form of a ball and roll away to higher ground. But their society is a very competitive one, which requires them to get away with their food as fast as possible, by making the shortest route they could. The beetles apparently recognize that the best way to do this is to go straight, and do this by mentally picturing the stars above and taking it from there.
In order to start the process, the researchers explained that dung beetles go on top of the ball of dung they created, then dance on top of it. But this isn’t merely a show of fancy dance moves. While they’re busting a move on the poop, the beetles take a “celestial snapshot” that they store in their brains for future use. They then go in a straight line, matching their mental image of with the sky to where they’re currently located.
Results of the study can be found in the journal Current Biology.