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Dung Beetles Navigate Via the Milky Way, First Known in Animal Kingdom (nationalgeographic.com)
111 points by lelf 648 days ago | 19 comments



Further proof that humans grossly underestimate all other non-human lifeforms. Parrots reason like three year old children[1], mice feel empathy[2], elephants grieve[3], birds hold funerals for their dead[4], and now this.

And yet we won't hesitate to deforest natural habitats for yet more highways and ugly low density housing. And scientists continue to use animals for all kinds of shockingly inhumane experiments. Over 19 million animals are killed each year in research in the US alone[5], and that's not counting mice.

Even house pets are stolen and used for animal testing[6].

Surely we are the smartest animal on the planet (smart enough to rationalize anything), but isn't it more important we be compassionate?

[1] http://m.livescience.com/22178-parrots-reason-three-year-old... [2] http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/researchers-say-mice-feel... [3] http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/06/when-doves-cry-scientific-a... [4] http://news.discovery.com/animals/birds-hold-avian-funerals-... [5] http://www.statisticbrain.com/animal-testing-statistics/ [6] http://www.stolenpets.com/about.htm

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Ah, Hacker News, I always underestimate you. As I was reading the article, I was thinking to myself, there is no way someone can turn this into a negative, cynical, crabby top comment. Boy, how wrong I was.

Not a single mention of anything in the article, just a bunch of loud complaining about how humans aren't living the way some random guy on the internet thinks they should.

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negative, cynical, crabby... Not a single mention of anything in the article, just a bunch of loud complaining

Your comment or mine?

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Yours

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> And yet we won't hesitate to deforest natural habitats for yet more highways and ugly low density housing. And scientists continue to use animals for all kinds of shockingly inhumane experiments. Over 19 million animals are killed each year in research in the US alone[5], and that's not counting mice.

We aren't the only species on the planet that engages in genocide of other species. Plenty of animals, large and small, are predators of other animals as well as habitat destroyers. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if we someday find an animal that performs tests on other animals (other than us, that is). In nature, it is every species for itself, it is like that extreme form of capitalism that libertarians craze after.

It is egotistical to think that we some how exist outside of our ecosystem, with god like choices to make. Nature will throw things back into balance one way or the other, likely to our detriment.

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Regarding the extreme capitalism: not even every species, every individual organism's genes.

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Natural selection is quite greedy in general: consume resources, or be consumed as a resource! We've grown rich enough to think a bit more forward, which is where conservation comes in, but to think that any of those animals are less selfish than us is crazy.

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And it's not just the dung beetles that are missing out on the celestial tapestry over our heads, thanks to light pollution.

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Paper http://taste.versailles.inra.fr/AgroParisTech/cours/M1/Neuro...

<…> Even on clear moonless nights, many beetles still manage to orientate along straight paths. This led us to hypothesize that dung beetles exploit the starry sky for orientation, a feat that has, to our knowledge, never been demonstrated in an insect. Here, we show that dung beetles transport their dung balls along straight paths under a starlit sky but lose this ability under overcast conditions. In a planetarium, the beetles orientate equally well when rolling under a full starlit sky as when only the Milky Way is present. The use of this bidirectional celestial cue for orientation has been proposed for vertebrates, spiders, and insects, but never proven. This finding represents the first convincing demonstration for the use of the starry sky for orientation in insects and provides the first documented use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom.

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"Lastly, to confirm the Milky Way results, the team put little cardboard hats on the study beetles’ heads, blocking their view of the sky. Those beetles just rolled around and around aimlessly"

Sounds like they had a good time doing this research.

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The last bit gave me a chuckle:

> As for the beetles themselves, they were “very easy to work with,” he added. “You can do anything you want to them, and they just keep on rolling.”

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The researchers won the 2013 Ig Nobel "Joint Prize in Biology and Astronomy" for this interesting discovery ( http://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/ )

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Oh, thanks. Here is the ceremony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VG67U2D-gs&feature=player_d...

  “South Aftican Dung Beetles teach us
   that to do good science
   you've got to have /balls/”

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Actually, they're the second known species to do so in the Animal kingdom.

Humans have looked into the night sky and oriented themselves using the stars.

Although dung beetles have probably been doing it longer.

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This is what first came into my mind also.

If hairless monkeys can evolve to do this, why not dung beetles?

> Although dung beetles have probably been doing it longer.

That isn't clear. I'm sure we've doing it for much longer than 10k years. That we've always been fascinated with the heavens means that perhaps even other apes were/are doing this.

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First of all, we are not "hairless monkeys". Second, we did not "evolve to do this". Both of those statements are factually wrong.

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It's been known for year that some birds navigate using stars (see Stephen Emlen's research). What is different here is that an insect is doing it and using the "stripe of light" that is the milky way, not individual stars.

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I misread the title and was opening that article expecting to read about dung beetles in space.

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I thought they used a TRS-80:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dung_Beetles_%28video_game%29

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