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Dung Beetles Navigate Using the Milky Way

By Magdeline Lum

Dung deetles navigate using the Milky Way, and scientists analyse a dead whale’s ear wax to reveal its exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It’s that time of year of when research is acknowledged and awarded for making us laugh and then think. It’s the Ig Nobel season.

This year the winner of the joint biology and astronomy prize went to Prof Eric Warrant of Lund University and his colleagues for being the first to document the use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom.

Warrant was born in Australia and married his love of physics and entomology in his PhD at the Australian National University. He studied the optics of the compound eyes of dung beetles.

Unlike the compound eyes of flies and butterflies, which are active during the day, the compound eyes of dung beetles are built for dim light. Most insects can see only the brightest stars in the night sky, but the dung beetles are able to make out the glowing band of the Milky Way across the night sky and use it as a navigation cue.

Warrant and his colleagues taped small hats made from black cardboard and clear material to the heads of the dung beetles. The black hats blocked the beetles’ view of the sky, and observed the dung beetles losing their way.

Dung beetles were then placed in a planetarium that simulated the Milky Way. When the Milky Way was being projected, the dung beetles were able to navigate but when it was not, the dung beetles could not find their way.

These days Warrant is studying how...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.