Trivia

Hard

What Is The Only Insect Known To Navigate Using Stars?

Monarch Butterflies
Dung Beetles
Locusts
Centipedes
A large Copper Dung Beetle atop its dung ball.
Bernard DuPont/Flickr

Answer: Dung Beetles

Although scientists have long hypothesized that insects may use stars for navigation purposes (as do humans and birds), there was never concrete evidence that any insects were actually doing so. No evidence, that is, until researchers published findings in the Current Biology journal in early 2013 indicating that African Dung Beetles successfully used stars to navigate.

Not only do the dung beetles use other celestial clues like the position of the Sun and Moon, but on moonless nights, they also use the orientation of the Milky Way to navigate in straight paths. The researchers observed this phenomenon both in the wild and replicated it by placing beetles in a planetarium and tracking their orientation against that of the projected Milky Way.

The key detail was that the positions of individual stars were not relevant (the beetles cared very little if a particular star or constellation was visible in the planetarium model), but the general brightness and strength of the Milky Way in the model was. Much like many insect species use the position of the sun to navigate during the day, the dung beetles used the position of the brightest part of the Milky Way as a beacon. In that way, the beetles still navigate using stars, but they just happen to use a lot of them at once as a reference point.

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