It turns out that dung beetles are even more amazing than we've always known they are with their ability to move backwards using directional sensors to tune into visual stimuli.
A collaborative project by researchers at Lund University in Sweden and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has found that aside from picking up visual cues from their environment, the beetles also have a built-in _mechanical _sensory system.
Wits professor of Entomology, Marcus Byrne explains:
The way we've looked at it in the past is using celestial clues like the sun and the moon and the stars and polarised light in the sky invisible to the human eye. That's what we thought they had in their armoury up to now.— Marcus Byrne, Professor of Entomology - Wits University
But what happens when the sun is overhead at noon and useless as a compass?
The researchers found that the beetles have a fallback system:
We found that in these situations the species we looked at were able to switch to a mechanical cue and they sense that through their antennas - what they sensed was the wind.— Marcus Byrne, Professor of Entomology - Wits University
We do know that lots of flying insects also use wind as a compass.— Marcus Byrne, Professor of Entomology - Wits University
Professor Byrne says this example of navigational precision tools could be applied in artificial intelligence and robotics.
It (the dung beetle) doesn't need a GPS, it doesn't need a satellite, it can just use natural signals in the environment... It's literally the simplest piece of information that you can teach a robot to respond to and then you can get that robot to orientate itself through that environment.— Marcus Byrne, Professor of Entomology - Wits University
The fact that the creature can switch between its sources of input within a matter of seconds is another valuable function which could impact technology.
Listen to the complete conversation here:
This article first appeared on CapeTalk : New discovery about dung beetles has implications for AI, robotics