Visual cues used by ball-rolling dung beetles for orientation
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- Byrne, M., Dacke, M., Nordström, P. et al. J Comp Physiol A (2003) 189: 411. doi:10.1007/s00359-003-0415-1
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Ball rolling by dung beetles is considered to be a derived behaviour that evolved under pressure for space, and from competitors at the dung pat. Straight-line orientation away from the pat using a celestial cue should be the most successful rolling strategy to move dung to an unknown burial site. We tested this hypothesis in the field and the laboratory by presenting five species of ball-rolling beetles with different orientation tasks, involving reaction to obstacles as well as to reflected sunlight and artificial light sources. Beetles were found to consistently orientate along a chosen route, usually in the direction of the sun. Beetles rolling dung balls successfully negotiated barriers and returned to the original path as did beetles falling from ramps, or rotated about a fixed point while rolling a ball. The sun was found to be the main orientation cue, which could be substituted by reflected or artificial light. However, beetles reoriented themselves less accurately in response to lights in the laboratory, than they did to the reflected sun in the field. It is probable that phototactic orientation using the sun, which is widespread amongst arthropods, has been incorporated in the straight-line foraging behaviour that has evolved in ball-rolling dung beetles.