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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2017 Apr 5;372(1717). pii: 20160079. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0079.

Stellar performance: mechanisms underlying Milky Way orientation in dung beetles.

Author information

1
Lund Vision Group, Department of Biology, Lund University, 223 62 Lund, Sweden james.foster@biol.lu.se.
2
Lund Vision Group, Department of Biology, Lund University, 223 62 Lund, Sweden.
3
School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits 2050, South Africa.

Abstract

Nocturnal dung beetles (Scarabaeus satyrus) are currently the only animals that have been demonstrated to use the Milky Way for reliable orientation. In this study, we tested the capacity of S. satyrus to orient under a range of artificial celestial cues, and compared the properties of these cues with images of the Milky Way simulated for a beetle's visual system. We find that the mechanism that permits accurate stellar orientation under the Milky Way is based on an intensity comparison between different regions of the Milky Way. We determined the beetles' contrast sensitivity for this task in behavioural experiments in the laboratory, and found that the resulting threshold of 13% is sufficient to detect the contrast between the southern and northern arms of the Milky Way under natural conditions. This mechanism should be effective under extremely dim conditions and on nights when the Milky Way forms a near symmetrical band that crosses the zenith. These findings are discussed in the context of studies of stellar orientation in migratory birds and itinerant seals.This article is part of the themed issue 'Vision in dim light'.

KEYWORDS:

sky compass; star; straight-line orientation; vision

PMID:
28193823
PMCID:
PMC5312028
DOI:
10.1098/rstb.2016.0079
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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