If you are going to transform dung into treasure, it is best to act quickly and move in a straight line, away from the hordes. None of us move easily in straight lines unless we can see where we are going, but the beetles move backwards, each propelling a relatively massive ball with their hind legs, reading the shadows and the light. When the sun is directly overhead and there are no shadows, they read the wind. Nocturnal foragers take cues from the polarized light of the moon, and when the moon is not visible, they follow the Milky Way. These agents of transformation and rebirth tend to ignore cues from the ground, keeping their focus far above their grounded bodies. For their size, they are among the strongest creatures on the planet. Up here, we don’t like to touch what they treasure. We prefer to draw hopes for rebirth in soft pastel hues, and this may have something to do with the puzzlement of the researchers. Brain the size of a poppy seed, they say, but we still don’t understand.
Inspired by “How Dung Beetles Steer Straight” in the Annual Review of Entomology