April 1, 2015
- as seen by -Natalie Ingle
In a 2013 study, researchers found that some dung beetles navigate their unappealing pellets by the light of the Milky Way. When fitted with tiny hats that blocked the sky, the insects wandered aimlessly.
Why would anyone care if bugs have trouble rolling their poop balls in a straight line? Because these creatures play a crucial lifecycle role—dispersing nutrients, disposing of waste, and feeding animals a bit higher up the food chain.
Yet, like most of nature’s undertakers, they often suffer in silence as the unnoticed victims of larger environmental change.
What would happen, say, if light pollution blotted out the stars? Or if the bigger animals providing all that tasty offal suddenly disappeared from the landscape? Certainly Circellium bacchus, one of the thousands of species of African dung beetle, would find itself out of a meal and out of a job. But let’s not forget there are dung beetles shoring up ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.
I am proud to say the Wildlife Conservation Society is helping to keep these little animals around by protecting some of their more fashionable neighbors—like elephants—and halting human encroachment into critical wilderness habitat. Though mortal themselves, scarabs have represented rebirth and a kind of immortality for millennia. I hope they continue for millennia more.