Scientists Determine That Dung Beetles Dance on Dung Balls to Orientate Themselves

Posted on January 22, 2012

Scientists recently conducted experiments to determine why dung beetles dance on top of the dung balls they make before rolling them away. Dung beetles roll their dung beetles in a straight path away from the pile of dung after they have made them. Researchers say this straight-line orientation helps dung beetles avoid having their dung balls stolen by other dung beetles. Here is a video of a dung beetle dancing and then rolling the dung ball away.

In a research paper published in PLoS One, scientists hypothesize that the dung beetle dance is a "visually mediated mechanism that facilitates straight-line orientation in ball-rolling dung beetles by allowing them to 1) establish a roll bearing and 2) return to this chosen bearing after experiencing a disturbance to the roll path."

The researchers, led by Emily Baird of Lund University in Sweden, conducted several experiments on a farm in North-West Province, South Africa to determine why dung beetles dance on dung balls. The experiments involved letting the beetles roll dung balls into tunnels and then turning the tunnels, introducing obstacles in the tunnels or using semi-circular experimental tunnels to force the beetles off course. The researchers found that beetles would typically stop and dance on their dung balls when presented with course changes or obstacles. This suggests that the dance helps the beetles reorient themselves and stay on course.

Here is a video of a dung beetle stopping to dance after being forced off course by a semi-circular tunnel and a video of a dung beetle stopping to dance after falling from a tricky ramp put in its path by the researchers. Take a look:

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