Also Available in:
This article is from
Creation 45(1):50–51, January 2023

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

The amazing navigation skills of the dung beetle


CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported | Rafael Brix | wikimediaScarabaeus-laticollis
The common dung beetle Scarabaeus laticollis
Trypocopris vernalis, a type of dung beetle

Dung beetles are dependent upon animal manure for their existence. Some bury the waste near to the source location as a food store, while others form the dung into small balls and then roll the spheres away, amazingly navigating in a broadly straight line. The dung is then buried in the ground to hide it from competitors.

Observational evidence shows that the beetles push the dung ball along with their hind feet, with their head down, and front feet on the ground. So, they are pushing backwards, and can’t see where they are going. How do they manage such a feat of navigation? Studies have shown that during the day, they navigate with the light of the sun. But if the sun is hidden by cloud, or overhead at midday, they have been shown to navigate by the wind.1 Some beetles are also nocturnal, such as the African dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus. This clever beetle is able to navigate using the polarized light of the moon or the very faint light of the Milky Way.2

Such adaptive behaviour results from instinct, a characteristic shared by many other organisms, including the clever bees with their dance.3 Evolutionists claim that this ‘straight-line’ behaviour has evolved to avoid conflict with other beetles. However, identifying a benefit from a trait does not demonstrate that it developed from the accumulation of accidental mutations through selection.4 It may also be seen as a wonderful example of design—that the beetles are able to use the light of the sun, moon, and stars to guide their path.

The activity of the beetles is also an important part of the ecosystem, helping to bury essential nutrients from animal waste back into the ground. Studies have shown that dung beetle activity enhances soil water retention by 10%, which encourages plant growth by 280% when drought conditions prevail. This leads to a significant increase in leaf cover and height of the plants.5

In Australia, the farming of millions of cattle caused huge problems with bush flies reaching plague proportions. They bred by the thousands in each of the millions of dung pads produced each day. Then, starting in 1965, scientists began to import from overseas species of dung beetle which were better equipped than native species to deal with cow dung in particular. Not all such attempts to solve a major problem by introducing foreign species have had a good outcome. But this project was overwhelmingly successful, with a 90% reduction in fly numbers. This led Dr John Feehan, Australian entomologist and dung beetle expert, to say in 2016: “I like to think of these dung beetles, that I’ve been involved with for 50 years, as one of God’s gifts to us humans.”6

CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported | Wouter Hagens |wikimediabeetle-at-KarnakStatue of a dung beetle at Karnak temple, Egypt

The sacred beetle

Dung beetles also captured the imagination of ancient cultures. The Egyptians included the beetle Scarabaeus sacer in their sacred iconography and depicted it on amulets (called scarabs).7 This was evidently because the beetles, which buried themselves in the ground and then remerged, were symbolic of death and rebirth. The Hebrews during the time of King Hezekiah (from about 721 BC) also used the symbol of the scarab on the seals of large storage jars. The seals are known as LMLK seals, meaning ‘of the king’.8

Posted on homepage: 27 May 2024

References and notes

  1. Choi, C.Q., How dung beetles roll their food in a straight line, smithsonianmag.com, 5 Jan 2021. Return to text.
  2. Dacke, M. et al., How dung beetles steer straight, Annual Review of Entomology 66:243–256, 2021. Return to text.
  3. Marsden, N., Intriguing instincts, Creation 29(4):28–30, 2007. Return to text.
  4. Doyle, S., Does biological advantage imply biological origin? J. Creation 26(1):10–12, 2012; creation.com/biological-advantage. Return to text.
  5. Johnson, S.N. et al., An insect ecosystem engineer alleviates drought stress in plants without increasing plant susceptibility to an above-ground herbivore. Funct Ecol 30:894–902, 2016. Return to text.
  6. Dung beetles in Australia, National Museum Australia, nma.gov.au, accessed 5 Sep 2022. Return to text.
  7. Andrews, C., Amulets of Ancient Egypt, University of Texas Press, 1994. Return to text.
  8. Na’aman, N., The lmlk seal impressions reconsidered, J. Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, 43(1):112–125, 2016. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Wonder of Science
by Dominic Statham
US $20.00
Soft cover
Inspiration from Creation
by Professor Stuart Burgess & Dominic Statham
US $14.00
Soft cover
Design Dissected
by David J Galloway
US $15.00
Soft cover