The “dirty dancing” of the dung beetle is the topic of an interactive public lecture to be held at Wits entitled Dancing with the stars: understanding the behaviour of dung beetles, on Friday, 17 February 2012. The lecture, consisting of four topical talks by Prof. Marcus Byrne from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Science; and Drs Emily Baird, Jochen Smolka and Prof. Marie Dacke from Lund University, Sweden, will take place at 10:30 in the Oppenheimer Life Science Building, East Campus.
How to Walk the Line, the seminar’s first talk, will describe how the beetles use the sun, moon, stars and polarised light to navigate. In their quest to move along straight tracks these insects use navigational tricks that are unique in the animal kingdom. Dirty dancing will demonstrate and explain how the dung beetles climb on top of a dung ball, rotate to get their bearings and maintain straight trajectory, all while facing backwards and head-down. Cool balls and hot scratches takes another view of the beetle’s dung ball. In addition to being a food prize the fresh ball can also be a cool refuge from the hot sand. The dance therefore can also serve to stop the beetle overheating while rolling in the hot sun. The galloping dung beetle introduces a different group of dung beetles from Namaqualand that walk in a unique gallop-like gait not found in any other insect. The reason for this unusual behaviour is still a mystery.