Western Cape dung beetle counts steps

Makron

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Cape dung beetle counts steps

Professor Marcus Byrne of Wits University
19 October 2013


A species of dung beetle in the Western Cape has given up its ability to fly and instead gallops across the sand in a behaviour which researchers suspect evolved as a way to navigate back and forth from home.

"This species of Pachysoma grabs bits of poo and gallops forward with it. That is really odd. Most insects walk with a tripod gait. They plant three legs in a triangle, while swinging the other three legs forward. It's an incredibly stable way of walking because you've always got three legs on the ground. For an insect to abandon the tripod gait and use its legs together in pairs like a galloping horse is really radical. The big question is: why are they doing it?" says Professor Marcus Byrne of Wits University.

Pachysoma is also different to most dung beetles in that it collects dry dung and hoards it in a nest which it provisions with repeated foraging trips, instead of rolling one, wet, dung ball in a straight line away from competitors at the dung pile, never to return.

A team of scientists including Byrne and colleagues from Lund University in Sweden think the species might have changed the way it walks because it needs to be able to find its way back and forth from its nest.

"For most dung beetles, it's always a one way trip – grab the poo, run away and never go back. The very marked pacing of Pachysoma's gallop might be giving it a better signal in terms of estimating the return distance from the food to its nest. When it gallops, it slips less in the soft sand," says Byrne.

Dungbeetle.jpg

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