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Dung Beetle Cooling

November 8, 2012

Dung beetles use balls of fecal matter not only for food and reproduction, but for cooling as well.



How dung beetles cool their heels.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Insects called dung beetles are known for rolling up big balls of poo, which they eventually eat or lay eggs in. Now, Lund University neuroethologist Jochen Smolka and his colleagues have found that the dung balls also serve as mobile cooling systems.  They noticed that when dung beetles cross scorching terrain, they climb up on their balls more often than when walking on cooler ground.

JOCHEN SMOLKA (Lund University, Sweden):

So we filmed them with a thermal camera, and we saw their front legs heating up by up to ten degrees, within a few seconds of ground contact.  And then when they’re on top of the ball, they cool down again.

Smolka says evaporating moisture from the dung balls also cools the beetles.   Aside from being fascinatingly gross, dung beetles are now the first known insects to use a portable object for cooling – which shows how species adapt to their environments in surprisingly efficient ways.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

A dung beetle. (Axel Strauss/Wikipedia)