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Animal behaviour

Insect orientation to polarized moonlight

An African dung beetle uses the moonlit sky to make a swift exit after finding food.


Moonlight, like sunlight1, scatters when it strikes tiny particles in the atmosphere, giving rise to celestial polarization patterns2. Here we show that an African dung beetle, Scarabaeus zambesianus, uses the polarization of a moonlit sky to orientate itself so that it can move along a straight line. Many creatures use the Sun's light-polarization pattern to orientate themselves3,4, but S. zambesianus is the first animal known to use the million-times dimmer polarization of moonlight for this purpose.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Marie Dacke.

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Figure 1: Polarization of moonlight and orientation in African dung beetles.


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