Division of Labor

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Scientists discovered that some species of dung beetles spontaneously become couples to work faster in moving and burying balls of fecal matter, the Washington Post reported.

The beetles are important in regulating the ecosystem by processing the dung of animals, which improves soil quality. But moving those large balls of excrement is not an easy task for the small insect.

In their study, a research team placed 188 insects from two dung-rolling species – Sisyphus fasciculatus and Sisyphus schaefferi – in tubs with fresh cow dung. They then observed how the insect pair fared on flat surfaces and terrains with barriers.

While pairing up yielded little speed advantage on flat terrains, the beetles displayed an effective division of labor when overcoming obstacles.

The females would lift the ball off the ground in a handstand position and push it from below. Meanwhile, the male would proceed to lift the object – and eventually the female upward.

But researchers noted that this team-up did not have a clear goal, meaning that the beetles would be moving the large object to an undecided destination.

“They don’t know where they’re going,” said lead author Claudia Tocco. “They want to maintain a straight line as it’s the most efficient way to escape the dung site.”

Tocco explained, however, that the cooperation helps the beetles roll the dung away from potential rivals. The laborious couple would then find a spot to bury the ball and lay eggs inside it, she added.

In the future, she and her team hope to learn more about how the insects are able to communicate while maneuvering dung balls.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at hello@dailychatter.com.

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.

Copy link