The role of the sun in the celestial compass of dung beetles

M. Dacke, Basil el Jundi, Jochen Smolka, Marcus Byrne, Emily Baird

Abstract

Recent research has focused on the different types of compass cues available to ball-rolling beetles for orientation, but little is known about the relative precision of each of these cues and how they interact. In this study, we find that the absolute orientation error of the celestial compass of the day-active dung beetle Scarabaeus lamarcki doubles from 16° at solar elevations below 60° to an error of 29° at solar elevations above 75°. As ball-rolling dung beetles rely solely on celestial compass cues for their orientation, these insects experience a large decrease in orientation precision towards the middle of the day. We also find that in the compass system of dung beetles, the solar cues and the skylight cues are used together and share the control of orientation behaviour. Finally, we demonstrate that the relative influence of the azimuthal position of the sun for straight-line orientation decreases as the sun draws closer to the horizon. In conclusion, ball-rolling dung beetles possess a dynamic celestial compass system in which the orientation precision and the relative influence of the solar compass cues change over the course of the day.

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