Dung beetles the first celestial navigators?

Dung beetles are the first known insects to navigate by the stars.  (Image credit: Current Biology/Dacke et al.)

Who knew such a down-to-Earth creature would be capable of such otherworldly navigation?  It may be surprising, but research out of Lund University in Sweden suggests that dung beetles are the first known insects to navigate by the stars  Marie Dacke placed the beetles into a planetarium, where she could present them with different skies.  As the sky was altered, the insect would similarly adjust its path.  It seems that even the Milky Way was useful to them for finding their way.

Check out this article from the BBC for a more nuanced explanation.  What I find most interesting is the notion that a dark sky could be considered part of these animal's habitats.  In addition to these beetles, birds and other mammals also make use of the night sky for navigation.  Not only are we destroying the physical habitat for these creatures, the relentless march of city lights is depriving them of what could be a life-saving sense of direction.  Now I doubt many would shed tears over the loss of the dung beetle (although they should), but who knows how many unknown or even undiscovered species rely on our ever diminishing skies?

I've touched on the importance of light control before on Cosmic Chatter, so hit the light pollution tag below to see how its affecting humanity and what we can do to reduce it.

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