Hey, that’s not a dung ball

…it’s a rock!

Scarab_beetle_on_a_rock
Dung beetle work out. Copyright Cyprus 105 under Creative Commons licence – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Found this beautiful picture of a scarab beetle and its prize rock – perhaps he’s working out for his next dung ball battle.

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Dung beetles once were Gods

Yep, we were the most powerful insect God in Ancient Egypt

Doug the Dung Beetle once was a demi God
My great great great grandfather Khepri

Khepri was his name and sun rolling was his game

The Ancient Egyptians watched my great, great, great, great ancestors as they rolled their dung balls across the hot Egyptian sands. They made a connection between dung ball rolling and the rolling of the sun. It was obvious, the Dung Beetle was the God in charge of the sun!

They believed that every morning Khepri would appear and roll the sun at sun rise.  He would then continue rolling the sun across the sky until sunset.  Khepri disappeared overnight, but wasn’t resting (dung beetles never rest). He continued with his roll into the underworld and faithfully reappeared the following day at dawn.

He was given the name Khepri, which comes from the word kheper to emerge or come into being.

Khepri the scarab beetle God
Just a bit of sun rolling

Paper made from Poo – What a great idea!

Yep, you heard me. Paper made from poo – elephant poo to be precise.

Did you know paper can be made from elephant poo?
African elephants. Copyright Maryam Laura Moazedi under Creative Commons licence – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Pretty much any animal who is a veggie eater and has a relatively poor digestive system is an ideal candidate for this ingenious invention.

To make your own, simply gather some elephant poo, wash it to leave behind the raw fibre and then boil it for a long, long time.  Blend the mix to soften those poo fibres, add a splash of colour if desired and slop onto a sieve like mould to dry.

Bingo – Poo Paper! And what’s more – it doesn’t smell (pity that).

In case you’re wondering, this post was inspired by a conversation I had recently with a human who couldn’t seem to understand why us dung beetles are obsessed with poo. In their defence, they argued that humans just weren’t as inspired by something as yucky as poo.  That prompted a bit of research on the internet and not to my surprise, there are humans who share the same interest in poo, just like me.  And if you do a quick Google yourself, you’ll see that there are many companies offering this delightful product.

A poo-fect present to give your loved one next birthday!

How do dung beetles find their way home after sun set?

Simple, they look up to the sky, because the answer is written in the stars

Dung beetles navigate by the Milky Way

You may recall from a previous post that us dung beetles use the sun’s polarization to guide us in a straight line back home. Like many other insects, we have photoreceptors that enable us to see the polarisation.  Well, at night we use the moon’s polarisation, rather than the sun.

But what happens when the moon is hiding?

As you would expect, the dung beetle just gets on with it.  A research team noticed that hard working night shift dung beetles were still busy rolling (in straight lines home, not wandering around aimlessly) even when the moon was no where to be seen.

So, in a cunning plan, the scientists devised yet another experiment for us dung beetles to tackle (and as usual, we did not disappoint)

This experiment involved placing an unsuspecting dung beetle and its prized dung ball in a large inverted circular drum. This stopped the beetles from seeing anything land based.

One by one, they placed beetle after beetle into the drum and observed the following:

  • with the full moon shining, it took about 20 seconds to reach the edge
  • with a starry night and obscured moon, it took about 40 seconds
  • and with no moon or stars (they had to place a hat on the poor dung beetle!), it took a whopping 2 minutes

Dung beetle wearing hat to hide the milky way

So, now we know why you never see a dung beetle wearing a hat while working (it just makes work 6 times harder)

But what else did the scientists figure out? The experiment demonstrated that the moon’s polarisation offered one form of navigation, but that the ‘line’ of the Milky Way stars offered an alternate navigation source, when the moon was nowhere to be seen. Although dung beetles have ‘simple’ eyes and cannot see individual stars, they can see the sparkling line of the beautiful stars within the Milky Way.

References: To my surprise two research teams have undertaken similar research studies into dung beetle night rolling. This article by New Scientist and The New Yorker were particularly well written. Would rather watch than read? Check out this DNews report – not surprisingly, it comes with some ‘poo’ jokes.

11 seconds of fame – better than nothing

Doug dung beetle and his dung ballI was very excited to discover that the dung beetle stars in the preview of David Attenborough’s latest DVD – Africa.

Only 11 seconds of fame (starts at 25s and stops with a bump at 36s), but of all the animals in Africa, David chose us, the mighty dung beetle, to lead the pack!

We bought the DVD and watched it the other day. Absolutely amazing photography and I particularly like the ‘behind the scenes’ at the end of each episode. It shows just how hard the camera crew work in making a documentary like this. It also shows how hard us dung beetles work at rolling (check out episode 5).