Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Dung n Roll - not your typical dance

Dung Beetle on top of dung ball

Stumbling across a pile of dung is unpleasant for most but strangely enough one invertebrate species will happily break out it's dancing moves upon this discovery.

When a suitable dung pile is located, the Dung beetle will cut off a piece of dung and shape it into a ball. Breaking out its signature moves the Dung beetle will then get its boogie on and perform a characteristic dance by climbing on top of the ball and rotating about its vertical axis. Afterwards the beetle will roll its dance partner in a straight line away from the original dung pile to a secluded location for burial and consumption. 

It is remarkably fascinating, that these little fellas are able to control the direction it which they travel given the fact that they do this facing backwards with their head pointing towards the ground. The initial dance at the dung pile, aids the beetles, as they store a compass reading from celestial cues, when the rolling begins the beetles try to then match they cues they see with their store compass reading, enabling them to move in the most direct route; a straight line.This interesting feature of the Dung beetle's behavior ensures a safe path for the beetles; so they do not return to the intense competition from fellow beetles (stealing a ball from another is easier than making one) occurring around the dung pile. 

Two Dung beetles fighting for a ball
Circumstances that lead to this behaviour in Dung beetles have been explored to determine whether the Dung beetle dance is an orientation mechanism. In the article I reviewed (The Dung Beetle Dance: An Orientation Behaviour), they concluded that most beetles perform a characteristic dance. An increased likelihood of this dance being performed can be triggered when control of the ball is lost or the beetle encounters an obstacle. Results also showed that physical disruption is not the only disturbance to initiate the beetle's dance moves; changing the orientation of the beetles relative to the position of it's visual cues or the position of the sun can also cause the beetle to perform it's dung n' roll moves. It is thought that the dance is a behavioural mechanism as the straight-line orientation of the beetle's ball-rolling allows them to 1) establish a bearing in which to roll and 2) if their roll path is unintentionally disturbed the beetle has the ability to return to this select bearing.

The Dung beetle is unlike many other animal navigators as it does not aim to find its way back to a familiar location after foraging but instead they need to roll their balls from a known location to an unknown secluded location, in the most direct  and efficient route possible; a straight line.

Thanks for reading, I hope you learnt something new! 

To see this beetle in action these check out:
Dung Beetle Dance
Dung beetle dancing and re-orienting to a mirrored sun

For the full article:
The Dung Beetle Dance: An Orientation Behaviour?

For extra information on New Zealand Dung Beetles:


  1. I never knew playing with poo could be so beneficial!!! So the dance is mainly to get a good view of the surrounding area and figure out what the best way to exit without trouble is?

  2. ha! typical Jono -please just leave that to the beetles :P
    Yes thats the idea- the beetles aim to find the fastest, most direct route (a straight line) to a safe place where they can consume their ball while avoiding other beetles who may steal their ball. I have watched other youtube videos etc where the dung beetles sometimes make theirs lives harder by taking the straight line/direct route as they sometime are unaware of hills/slopes as the roll the ball backwards and face the ground, this makes their life a little harder it times, but they definitely work for the food!