In the African savannah can reach 149° Fahrenheit in the middle of the day, which leads to burning sand and an obvious problem for anything that lives there, including small insects that spend their lives on the surface of the sand. Some insects seek protection in the shade or climb up blades of grass to escape the worst of the heat.
But South African dung beetles have come up with a unique strategy to escape the heat of the sun; they climb on top of their rolled-up meal, which happens to be a ball of dung. These dung balls are a kind of air conditioning unit because the ball is made from the moist dung of a large(ish) mammal. When the moisture in the dung ball evaporates in the heat, the ball is cooled down.
How did researchers from Lund University in Sweden discover this? By the only thing more interesting than dung air conditioning - they put small silicon boots on the beetles’ front legs.
The dung beetle’s main interest in the dung ball is to eat it, but the beetle has also worked out how to cool down on top of the ball. The Lund researchers have been able to prove this by studying the dung beetles’ behavior in different experiments. Dung beetles on hot sand were seven times more likely to climb up onto their ball than dung beetles that rolled their balls on cooler sand.
In another experiment, the researchers put a type of silicon boot on the front legs of a number of dung beetles to protect their feet from the heat. The results showed that dung beetles with silicon boots did not climb up onto their balls as often.
“Our study shows that insects employ sophisticated methods to regulate their body temperature. Evolution has an incredible ability to utilise existing materials for new functions”, says Jochen Smolka, a researcher at the Department of Biology at Lund University, who has carried out the research with colleagues from Lund and other researchers from South Africa.
Not all species of dung beetle roll their meals away in the form of dung balls; only around ten per cent demonstrate such behavior. The reason they roll the balls away from the pile of dung is to be able to eat in peace, without competition from other beetles.
Citation: Dung beetles use their dung ball as a mobile thermal refuge. Jochen Smolka, Emily Baird, Marcus J. Byrne, Basil el Jundi, Eric J. Warrant and Marie Dacke, Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 20, R863-R864, 23 October 2012
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Researchers Created A Laser Bullet To See What It Would Look Like - And Here It Is
- The Strange Organic Molecules In Titan's Atmosphere
- Will Holding Thermal Printer Paper Really Send Your BPA Levels Soaring?
- The Quote Of The Week - Shocked And Disappointed
- As The Weather Changes, So Do Beliefs About Climate Change
- ECFA Workshop: Planning For The High Luminosity LHC
- Moderate Pot Use By Adolescents Doesn't Hurt IQ
- "Hi Nury, good to see you back here again after so many months away from this monster Science20..."
- "The OSX versions are all free, the all in one IOS version is not free. The developer (which I am..."
- "Anonymous, when you disagree, be civil and cite the specific sentence or quote that you disagree..."
- "I wonder how this one was genetically modified?(cartoon by Norman Thelwell) ..."
- "I have no time for you. Either learn how to have a decent, mature conversation without resorting..."
- Coffee grounds turned biofuel can heat your home
- Bill and Melinda Gates on GMOs: ‘Poor farmers should not be denied choice of life-saving tools’
- Why do foodies love organics? Because they taste like McDonald’s!
- GMO milk? An enviros dream innovation that most enviros oppose
- National Wildlife Refuge System bans on GMOs and neonics lack transparency, scientific rationale
- Want better sperm? Eat more pesticides
- New policymaking tool for shift to renewable energy
- Teens whose parents exert more psychological control have trouble with closeness, independence
- Two days later: Adolescents' conflicts with family spill over to school, vice versa
- Children in high-quality early childhood education are buffered from changes in family income
- 'Breath test' shows promise for diagnosing fungal pneumonia