Animals that are celestial navigators

Date:6 November 2019 Author: Imogen Searra Tags:, , ,

What do dung beetles, Indigo buntings and harbour seals have in common? Their ability to navigate using the stars. While humans have been using the stars as a guide for thousands of years, these three animals have mastered this critical skill.

Marie Dacke, an expert in animal navigation at Sweden’s Lund University, spoke to National Geographic about the fascinating migration patters of these three animals.


Dung beetles:

This African beetle is most famous for rolling perfect balls out of fresh animal dung. If you’ve had the privilege of seeing these insects in action, it is quite a mesmerizing spectacle. These clever insects use the polarized light of the moon to navigate in a straight line. Their eyes cannot see individual stars but a group of stars together, like the Milky Way, is dense enough to create a luminous line for them to follow. According to Dacke’s research, on moonless nights, the insect navigates using light from the Milky Way, making them the only known animal to do this.

“As long as they keep it in the same orientation to their initial position, they will move straight,” said Dacke to National Geographic.

Indigo buntings:

These songbirds from North America migrate south for winter, at night. According to National Geographic, in 1967, research was conducted on how exactly these birds migrate. A few individual birds were captured during their autumn migration.

The birds were placed in cages in the Robert T. Longway Planetarium in Flint, Michigan. The planetarium sky mimicked the natural night sky, rotating about the North Star.

Before take off, the birds would hop in the direction they wanted to fly in: south. Researchers wanted to see if the birds were dependent on individual stars for navigation and removed the constellation within 35 degrees of the North Star.

The animals were completely disorientated, resulting in the finding that individual stars do not matter. Rather, the rotation of close star patters around a center point help the birds determine north and south, and they migrate accordingly.


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During Spring and Fall Migration, Indigo Buntings travel at night, using the stars to help them navigate! 🌌🧭 Indigo Buntings are a long-distance Migratory bird. While migrating they fly over 1,200 miles. During their breeding Season they can be found throughout Southern Canada, down to Florida. In the Winter, they are found in Southern Florida, down to the Northern part of South America. The Indigo Bunting feeds mainly on insects during Summer, and switches to seeds come Winter. Here in the photo you can see an Adult male Indigo Bunting in breeding plumage. I took this photo 07/24/19. Thank you so much for all the likes and comments. Hoping everyone enjoyed their Halloween 🎃. #smithbirding #nikon #coolpixp1000 #nikonnofilter #nikonbirds #bird #birds #birder #birding #ebird #teamebird #birdsofinstagram #birdwatching #birdphotography #nature #wildlife #photography #montroseharbor #lakemichigan #montrosepointbirdsanctuary #chicago #illinois #thegreatlakes #midwest #migratorybirds #centralamerica #indigobunting #songbird #southamerica #passerinacyanea

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Harbour seals:

These aquatic mammals live along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. Much like humans, the harbour seal enjoys eating at nighttime.

According to National Geographic, two scientists, from Germany and Denmark, plucked two captive harbour seals from the Marine Science Centre in Germany and plopped them in a specially designed floating planetarium that mimicked the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky.

The two animals were named Nick and Malte. They were trained to swim in the direction of specific lodestars, discovering that the animals could identify individual stars. The findings suggest that the seals may use certain lodestars for celestial navigation.




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