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Thu Jan 24, 2013, 03:42 PM


Dung Beetles Use Milky Way as GPS

Birds and humans use stars to navigate (at least, our pre-GoogleMaps ancestors did), but can insects map their routes?

For dung beetles, a new study says the answer is yes. The African insects appear to find their way via the Milky Way. It’s the first evidence that any insect can orientate themselves with the sky, and the first evidence that any animal uses the Milky Way as a map of sorts.

“Even on clear, moonless nights, many dung beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths,” said Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden. “This led us to suspect that the beetles exploit the starry sky for orientation — a feat that had, to our knowledge, never before been demonstrated in an insect.”



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Response to cali (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 03:45 PM

1. This is going to sound stupid..... but birds navigate during the day to places they want to


go to.... and we know they aren't using the stars..... but that is a really cool article if it is true.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 03:51 PM

2. Why not Magnetism?


Animal magnetism: How salmon find their way home up river

Put them in a huge indoor areas like a stadium (have one with top open and one closed). Then see what happens.

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Response to NoOneMan (Reply #2)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 04:26 PM

5. They have done that experiment with migratory birds inside a planetarium. It seems that the birds

roost oriented away from the North Star Polaris. During the night, the orientation inside of the planetarium was rotated 90 or more degrees. Invariably, the birds changed their positions to follow the changes.

However , some birds, raised inside the planetarium with Betelgeuse as the center, non-rotating star, roosted facing away from Betelgeuse rather than Polaris.


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Response to cali (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 03:53 PM

3. What if only Snicker's Bars are available?

Cool article, btw. Thanks for posting.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 04:19 PM

4. This seems unlikely *as described* (though some birds do something similar)

The problem with innate navigation using stars is that the Earth was a very slow wobble in its axis such that the night sky changes over a cycle of around 20,000 years--too slow to notice in a lifetime but way too fast for evolution.

Some birds use the north star, but they have to learn by observation, as hatchlings, which star (appears to) move least, and is thus the north star. They cannot be born with a star map because what we see as the north star today wouldn't have been the north-most star 20K years ago.

It is a miracle that birds can do it. It seems unlikely to me that any insects, with insect brains and eyes, could manage the same instinctual trick.

And navigating with milky way... that's a very diffuse target, compared with the singular point of the north star, or other star.

HOWEVER... reading between the lines of the article, I don't know that they are claiming what the headline and first paragraph suggest.

Using a term like GPS suggests that the beetles use the sky to *locate* a place on Earth. If the trick described is merely flying in a straight line, however, then we are talking about a simple scheme of referring to anything in the night sky as a fixed point.

That would not tell you where to go or find your way, but it would allow you to walk/fly in a straight line, which seems to be what the researchers are talking about. In that case it is like keeping the prow of your boat pointed at a landmark to sail a straight course.

Some programing that a reference in the sky is reliable... and an instinct for making use of such landmarks.

Which would still be unusual for a beetle.

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