Talk about star power—a new study shows that dung beetles navigate via the Milky Way, the first known species to do so in the animal kingdom.
The tiny insects can orient themselves to the bright stripe of light generated by our galaxy, and move in a line relative to it, according to recent experiments in South Africa.
“This is a complicated navigational feat—it’s quite impressive for an animal that size,” said study co-author Eric Warrant, a biologist at the University of Lund in Sweden.
Moving in a straight line is crucial to dung beetles, which live in a rough-and-tumble world where competition for excrement is fierce. (Play “Dung Beetle Derby” on the National Geographic Kids website.)
Once the beetles sniff out a steaming pile, males painstakingly craft the dung into balls and roll them as far away from the chaotic mound as possible, often toting a female that they have also picked up. The pair bury the dung, which later becomes food for their babies.