Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 189, Issue 6, pp 411-418

First online:

Visual cues used by ball-rolling dung beetles for orientation

  • Marcus ByrneAffiliated withEcophysiological Studies Research Group, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand Email author 
  • , Marie DackeAffiliated withDepartment of Cell and Organism Biology, University of Lund
  • , Peter NordströmAffiliated withDepartment of Cell and Organism Biology, University of Lund
  • , Clarke ScholtzAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria
  • , Eric WarrantAffiliated withDepartment of Cell and Organism Biology, University of Lund

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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.


Celestial cue Foraging Scarabaeidae Scarabaeinae Visual orientation