Posted 24 February 2014 by Andrew Gardner
Here's a new theory I can't resist passing on: it seems that dung beetles navigate by the stars. I had planned to write about something serious, like the fact that Sussex-based Rolls-Royce, whose headquarters are at Goodwood near Chichester, must be revelling in the weird paradox that says sales of luxury goods go up in a recession. And this is great news for some Sussex jobs, of course. But dung beetles are so much more compelling, don't you think?
Have you ever stopped to watch a dung beetle go about its work? Honestly, next time you're out in the countryside and you spot one, do give it a few minutes. The little chap (or chapess) comes across some dung, diligently gathers as much as it can into a little ball and then rolls it along to the nest. It's quite a feat. I've always wondered how they can see round it to know where they're going - so looking up to the Milky Way makes all the more sense. At night, anyway.
A scientist has done serious research about this by putting dung beetles into a planetarium and proving that the stars make more difference to their sense of direction than any other landmark or factor - and that on some nights when the Milky Way is flat on the horizon they have trouble again. I'd love to know more about how animals navigate, because so many of them are renowned for their innate sense of direction, like the stories of cats and dogs that find their way home over huge distances, and the theory that if you fall off a horse it will find its way home (which is probably true, but unfortunately the way generally involves a road). And I've heard that the magnets you can put on cats' collars to operate catflaps can interfere with their navigation, suggesting that it's something to do with the earth's electric current.
It must be fun sometimes to be a scientist and get a grant to research something apparently wacky that ends up capturing people's imaginations. But in the meantime, why not click here to see one of our farm-based holiday cottages and do some beetle-spotting?