Dung beetle navigation update reported in ScienceDaily 12 May 2016 BBC News 13 May 2016 and Current Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.030, 12 May 2016. Researchers from Lund Vision Group at Lund University working with scientists in South Africa conducted further research into how dung beetles navigate as they roll their balls of dung in straight lines.

It has long been observed that when a dung beetle has made a ball of dung it climbs on top of the ball and then turns around, a behaviour that has been nicknamed the “dance”. Previous studies have shown that this is when the beetle gets it bearings using various clues from the sky, including the position of the sun, moon and the Milky Way galaxy, the direction of polarised light and the spectral gradient across the sky.

The researchers studied beetles placed in an artificial environment where they could control the cues used by the beetles, even presenting them with a scene that “represents a physical impossibility for the real sky”, e.g. sun and moon in the wrong places. The beetles used the sky they were presented, rather than any previously stored information about a real sky, to orientate and navigate. The scientists concluded the beetles were taking a “snapshot of the celestial scenery” during the dance behaviour.

Basil El Jundi explained to the BBC: “In that situation they scan the sky and take a mental image of what the sky looks like and when they start rolling they try to match the actual visual scenery of the sky with the mental image they stored previously. And that brings them away in a straight line”.

The researchers suggest that this method of navigating could be used in developing navigation technology for self-driving vehicles. El Jundi commented to BBC News: “Based on these results you could create robots or algorithms that could be incorporated into autonomous vehicles that could navigate without cues that humans input into the system”.

BBC, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: This brilliant system enables dung beetles to carry out their essential function at any time of the day or night, and in any prevailing conditions in the sky. But don’t miss one factor – it works simply because the beetle knows what to do with the information it has captured, i.e. like a self-driving robot car it needs to be pre-programmed to use the information to guide it along straight lines.

However, it is foolish to think the beetle came up with this method of keeping them on the straight and narrow. All devices we know that capture images, process them, and use the information for some purpose, have required intelligent scientists and engineers to build.

The possible application for self-driving vehicles is interesting. Some of us are old enough to remember a certain iconic car that was nicknamed the beetle. Maybe one day, when some more creative design is used, we may see a car nicknamed the dung beetle. Well maybe not, but dung beetles are one of God’s more brilliant creations, and we should give thanks for them. Without them we would all be navigating through great piles of dung. (Ref. insects, navigation, ecosystem services)

Evidence News vol. 16 No. 12
22 June 2016
Creation Research Australia