Dung beetles, like the one seen in the picture, also use stars to navigate. (Thinkstock)
Are humans the only animals who use the stars to navigate?
October 21, 2015
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You asked us a question.
"Are humans the only animals who use the stars to navigate?"
Humans have been looking to the heavens for thousands of years. They used the skies for help with directions.
It turns out that all that time we were not alone in looking up. Some birds and even seals have been shown to use the stars for navigation.
New research has added one more lofty animal to the group.
Wait for it! It is the dung beetle.
Dung piles are kind of like war zones. Thousands of beetles are fighting for their share of the spoils.
So it is pretty important that the African ball-rolling species be able to quickly escape with its loot.
During the day the beetles can use the sun to help them walk a straight line. And at night the moon comes in handy.
But why? That is when the dung beetles turn to the stars for help.
Humans and birds use a single star. Seals also use a single star. It is a lodestar. It can show them the way. But the dung beetle's eyes are not sensitive enough.
Instead they use the Milky Way. This bright band helps them walk a straight line out of the dung heap. As sure as night is dark, they move away from the competition.
On a good day or night a single beetle can move about 250 times its own weight in poop. The bug recycles a whole lot of nutrients back into the soil.
It kind of makes you wonder what will happen if all the stars become hidden by light pollution. Dung beetles may start to lose their way.
We will probably be up to our necks in it.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can you use the sun to navigate?
Write your answers in the comments section below