Thursday, January 31, 2013

Even Dung Beetles Dig Fedoras

Man, I love NPR. One of the reasons I listen to it, is for the variety. The topics they discuss are all over the place and I am happy for that. As an intellectual, kind of pretentious medium, public radio could stick to boring stuff or cover the same topics endlessly. And I guess boring is subjective so I will not assume any divine right of evaluation.

When they get into the conflicts in the middle east I tune it out in my consciousness because my limited information processing abilities cannot even come close to keeping track of all the players; who are the good guys, who are the bad guys; who are our allies and who wants to see the United States vaporized. Most of the time I'll leave the radio on hoping that some of this will seep in subconsciously. Other times I turn the radio off and dream of big paychecks, fame, exquisitely tailored suits, fine dining and 12 carrot diamonds for my long suffering wife.

Dung beetles were a recent topic. That satisfies my need for variety quite nicely.

Harsh fact: Dung beetles eat dung and everything about dung beetles has to do with dung in some form. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

Five years ago scientists began studying the navigational skills of dung beetles. You and I are struggling to survive, commuting to work every day praying to not get sacked, hoping for enough "hours", watching our checking accounts closely so we don't run out of money before the next paycheck, having to look up the definition of "savings account" in the dictionary and finding the phrase stricken from the English language as irrelevant.

And there are scientists inspired to study the navigational skills of dung beetles. This fascinates me. How do you get jobs like that? What even makes you begin to pay attention to dung beetles?

The working world is strangely skewed.

Apparently dung beetles are competitive little buggers. They climb fresh feces in the desert, shape their loot into balls and roll them away. They have to be quick about it because there are lots of beetles competing for the same prize AND there are lazy beetles who will steal dung from industrious ones. Not much different than humans.

A straight line is their most efficient means of escape. Scientists originally assumed the beetles used the sun and the moon for navigation but they couldn't understand how the beetles navigated on nights when there was no moon. They then theorized that the Milky Way was the source of the dung beetles accuracy.

The whole evolution of this thought process amazes me. And I waste my time trying to figure out how to improve my life.

This is my favorite part. The scientists tested this theory by taping little cardboard hats on the beetles' heads so they couldn't see the sky. With the hat on, they moved in circles. With no hat, they moved in straight lines.

Who is the guy who got to put the hats on the beetles? How many graduate degrees does he have?

They also tested the beetles in a planetarium. First allowing them a view of the Milky Way on the ceiling, then altering the star pattern. With the Milky Way in view they were cool. With altered star patterns, they were lost.

We now know conclusively that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate efficient paths to dung nirvana.

I have slept better since I learned that.

I also developed a theory that little dung beetle hats are worn by most republican congressmen.

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