The Loh Down On Science

Meet the Beetles

The Beetles are back … and they’re rockin’ the Milky Way!
 
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
 
Saying, don’t get excited, baby boomers--we mean the dung beetles. These little black bugs are best known for congregating at poo piles, where they roll themselves a giant ball of, well, poo to eat later.  
 
Curiously, they always they roll their ball away from the crowd in a perfectly straight line. If they lose control, they could wind up back in the beetle mosh-pit, where other bugs might steal their, er, food.
 
But how do they keep their line straight?
 
Researchers in South Africa studied the bugs both in the field and in a planetarium. Turns out, if the real or simulated sky was overcast, the beetles were disoriented. But if the bright band of the Milky Way was visible, they steered straight.
 
This is the first evidence of ANY animal navigating via the Milky Way.
 
In short, “Across the Universe” isn’t just a hit by the Beatles.  It’s also a method by which dung beetles … steer their balls of poo.  No less poetic.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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