Upon locating a suitable dung pile, ball-rolling dung beetles shape a piece of dung into a ball and roll it away in a straight line. This guarantees that they will not return to the dung pile, where they risk having their ball stolen by other beetles. Dung beetles are known to use celestial compass cues such as the sun, the moon and the pattern of polarised light formed around these light sources to roll their balls of dung along straight paths. Here, we investigate whether terrestrial landmarks have any influence on straight-line orientation in dung beetles. We find that the removal or re-arrangement of landmarks has no effect on the beetle’s orientation precision. Celestial compass cues dominate straight-line orientation in dung beetles so strongly that, under heavily overcast conditions or when prevented from seeing the sky, the beetles can no longer orient along straight paths. To our knowledge, this is the only animal with a visual compass system that ignores the extra orientation precision that landmarks can offer.
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The authors would like to thank Ted and Winnie Harvey for their assistance at the field site. We also thank Martin Kohler for help with the illustrations. The experiments were carried out according to the current laws on animal experimentation in Sweden.
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