What do dung beetles and Nobel awards have in common?

The humble dung beetle was awarded the Ig Nobel award

… via a team of dung beetle loving researchers

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Ig Noble awards are about recognizing research that makes you think and then laugh

Marcus Byrne and his team of dung beetle researchers were awarded the an Ig Noble prize in biology and astronomy for their research into the dung beetle and its ability to navigate via the stars.

Check out his interview at the Sustainable Lens for the full story behind this incredible beetle.

Image credit: Sustainable Lens
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Poo-fect bean for the coffee connoisseur

So I was a bit surprised that Marti wasn’t overly excited by the recent present I gave her…

…a bag of Kopi Luwak coffee beans 

I thought it would be a nice way of combining her love of all things dung beetle and coffee.

This special coffee bean must first be ingested by the Sumatran luwak (also known as Asian palm civet). They love to eat the ripest coffee bean berries and after the fruit part has been ingested, the hard bean pops out the other end for local farmers to collect. It can then be roasted the traditional way.

Luwak eating coffee berries
Luwak eating berries Copyright Leendertz under Creative Commons licence – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Considered the most expensive coffee bean (about $AUD 1 per gram!); it’s obviously one for a true connoisseur to savour. Perhaps an ideal gift for that person who has everything?

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.

To roll or not to roll

….That is the million dollar question.

But the reality is, it’s quite simple for me.  Of the three options out there for us dung beetles: roll, dwell or tunnel, rolling is definitely the way to go.

roller dung beetle

Here are some good reasons to roll:

You get to play ball all day long. Not many people get a job as fun as that.

You get to spend the day in the beautiful outdoors. Tunnellers and dwellers spend time inside. Dwellers live inside the dung and tunnellers dig underground, taking their dung with them.

If you’re really hungry, you can make super dooper balls of dung like the one in the photo of me. And better still, because I’m a roller, I can easily roll it quickly away from other hungry dung beetles.  The competition is always fierce. Luckily for me, my species of dung beetle is super strong. We have been observed to lift over 1,000 times our own body weight in dung, so rolling a ball as big as the picture, is easy peasey.