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Earth Science

Dung Beetles Navigate By the Milky Way; Pigeons Tune In To Magnetism 82

Posted by timothy
from the that-would-be-the-greatest-implant dept.
sciencehabit writes with this excerpt from Science magazine's colorful synopsis of a paywalled article at Current Biology "A day in the life of a male dung beetle goes something like this: Fly to a heap of dung, sculpt a clump of it into a large ball, then roll the ball away from the pile as fast as possible. However, it turns out that the beetles, who work at night, need some sort of compass to prevent them from rolling around in circles. New research suggests that the insects use starlight to guide their way. Birds, seals, and humans also use starlight to navigate, but this is the first time it's been shown in an insect." Also on the topic of How Animals Get Around Without GPS, new research has considerably heightened scientists understanding of birds' sensitivity to magnetic fields. For homing pigeons at least, this ability seems to be tied to a cluster of just 53 neurons (original paper, also behind a paywall).
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Dung Beetles Navigate By the Milky Way; Pigeons Tune In To Magnetism

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  • by TWX (665546)
    An excerpt of a synopsis? Really? Is that what we're down to these days?

    Seems to me like the upper management method of running things has come into full swing.
    • That's nothing. My friend's working on an adaptation of a translation of a synopsis of a logline of an excerpt of a summary of an adaptation of my other friend's cousin's translation of his great aunt's rewrite of her sister's letters to her first boyfriend, which letters were written in shorthand. I look forward to reading an excerpt of a synopsis of the abstract of the first academic paper my old professor has said he'll write about it.
    • by muon-catalyzed (2483394) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @04:09AM (#42706115)
      Yep, finally an upper management method of running things.
    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by SternisheFan (2529412) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @09:15AM (#42706713)

      An excerpt of a synopsis? Really? Is that what we're down to these days? Seems to me like the upper management method of running things has come into full swing.

      Whenever I submit a story to /., it's a synopsis I found on google news, usually it's a straight copy/paste. That's usually what the editors here get and have to work with. I suppose that their job involves doing far more behind the scenes than, as /. viewers, we're privy to. Seems to me they do the best they can with what they get, and do clean up the sloppy story submissions they recieve.

      Many's been the time that the /. eds research a story idea I submitted much further/deeper, providing a far more improved, informative story synopsis, entirely re-doing my submission over from scratch.

      My hat gets doffed to the editors, they all do their best to keep improving this site. Samzepus, Soulskill, Timothy and the rest. For example, I have more respect and understanding of 'Timothy', who when I first started reading /., I assumed was some smartass techie kid, and who I'm guilty of goofing on a bit in some of my earliest posts (sorry 'bout those, Tim) . I learned that he's an intelligent man who knows a great deal about varied subjects. Live and learn.

      The editors provide the content here, and it is up to the users of the site to expand on the provided story, and they almost always come through. I know I've expanded my world knowledge from reading this site over the last several years.

      Slashdot editors are human too, and I don't think I'd want the job myself, and I've got a pretty thick skin. To have the whole world watching and critiquing my work (especially while I'm having a bad day anyway, the commenters can get really brutal here), no thanks!

  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:06AM (#42705385)
    It's been hypothesized that pigeons also use polarized light [wikipedia.org] to sense the position of the sun in the sky-sphere, even if the sun itself is obscured from direct viewing. It's been definitely shown to be true for:
    -- honeybees : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_navigation#Orientation_by_polarised_light [wikipedia.org]
    -- squids eyes : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cephalopod_eye#Polarized_light [wikipedia.org]
    -- fishies : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_in_fishes#Polarized_light [wikipedia.org]
    .
    Pigeons have been tested for polarization sensing and magnetic field sensing by William Tinsley Keeton [wikipedia.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Dung! [google.com]

  • What's brown and sounds like a bell?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ...Dung! ..Dung! ....Dung!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This sounds like shit science to me.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @01:45AM (#42705685) Homepage Journal

    ...would be if the dung beetles could also navigate through the Galaxy.

  • How do you use a candy bar to navigate?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How do you use a candy bar to navigate?

      Offer it to someone in return for directions?

  • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @02:31AM (#42705841) Journal

    Between a dung beetle and a Congressman? The Dung Beetle has at least 53 neurons...

  • Events of a million years ago are guiding dung beetles. Consider: The beetles are about 20,000 light-years from the galactic center, but it took the light's energy an average of about 1,000,000 years to randomly walk out of the stars.
  • What do they do when it's cloudy?
    • by drankr (2796221)

      It's never cloudy in Africa.
      Anyway, a study suggests... pfff. And even if someone could provide hard evidence, then what?
      A part of the universe, in this case a beetle, acts as part of the universe, using the opportunities afforded it by its natural habitat, i.e., the universe.
      Well I never.

  • Dinosaurs navigated with Apple Maps and look where that got them.
  • It's gratifying that a humble creature that spends its days rolling dung about, can also reach for things on a cosmic scale.

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @09:41AM (#42706801)
    You might expect dung beetles to keep their "noses to the ground", but they are actually incredibly attuned to the sky. Indeed, a report in the 24 January Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, shows that, even on the darkest of nights, African ball-rolling insects are guided by the soft glow of the Milky Way.

    While birds and people are known to navigate by the stars, the discovery is the first convincing evidence for such abilities in insects, the researchers say. It is also the first known example of any animal getting around by the Milky Way as opposed to the stars.

    "Even on clear moonless nights, many dung beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths," said Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden. "This led us to suspect that the beetles exploit the starry sky for orientation – a feat that had, to our knowledge, never before been demonstrated in an insect."

    Dacke and her colleagues found that dung beetles can transport their dung balls along straight paths under a starlit sky, but lose the ability under overcast conditions. In a planetarium, the beetles stayed on track equally well under a full starlit sky and one showing only the diffuse streak of the Milky Way.

    That makes sense, the researchers explained, because the night sky is sprinkled with stars, but the vast majority of those stars should be too dim for the beetles' tiny compound eyes to see.

    The findings raise the possibility that other nocturnal insects also use stars to guide them at night. On the other hand, dung beetles are pretty special. Upon locating a suitable dung pile, ball-rolling dung beetles shape a piece of dung into a ball and roll it away in a straight line. That behaviour guarantees them that they will not return to the dung pile, where they risk having their ball stolen by other beetles.

    "Dung beetles are known to use celestial compass cues such as the sun, the moon and the pattern of polarised light formed around these light sources to roll their balls of dung along straight paths," Dacke said. "Celestial compass cues dominate straight-line orientation in dung beetles so strongly that, to our knowledge, this is the only animal with a visual compass system that ignores the extra orientation precision that landmarks can offer.

    http://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/o.o.i.s?id=24890&news_item=5999 [lunduniversity.lu.se]

  • One of the authors of the pigeon study was an invited speaker last summer at a conference I organize. I have not yet read the paper, but the presentation was arguably the best recieved of the 23 oral presentations, generating vigorous, positive discussion that spilled into after-hours interaction. Very, very good stuff.

    While it may also be true that pigeons also navigate by polarized light, the evidence presented for a magnetic sense is overwhelming.

  • "The experiment was conducted both outdoors under the night sky, and inside a planetarium where researchers could manipulate the starlight and hone in on the specific cues that the dung beetles were using."

    Scientist: "We'd like to use the planitarium for some exciting research! We'll need to bring in some beetles and some fresh elephant dun...."
    Planitarium Curator: "No."
    Scientist: "I can understand, but we'll make sure that..."
    Curator: "No."
    Scientist: "You didn't let me fin..."
    Curator: "Get out. ...

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