Starlight Steering Scarabs

A dung beetle sitting on a dung ball looking at the Milky Way.

  • Did you know that scarabs – possibly more commonly known as dung beetles – use the position of stars, other celestial objects like the moon, and the observed orientation of the Milky Way to navigate?  In this lesson, we will explore the navigation practices of the dung beetle.  We will also learn about the interactions between human and dung beetle ecosystems and how these poo-loving insects not only have an intriguing lifestyle but also are very beneficial to our own way of life.
  • You can request this lesson to be brought to your school and presented in conjunction with the PDF presentation included below or schedule a visit to The Ohio State University and have this lesson taught in conjunction with a specially designed planetarium show paired with this topic.
  • Dung Beetle image credit: Emily Bard

Complete Teachers Guide

  • A complete teachers guide is available in PDF format for teachers to look through and gain some background knowledge for the activity.

Grade Level

  • 3 – 5 Standard Lesson only; Polarization Supplement (coming soon) suitable for ~6 – 9, though possibly younger with scaffolding and presentation adaptations. 

Goals and Learning Objectives

  • Students will explore the navigation practices of the dung beetle, observations of the sky, and the interactions between the human and dung beetle ecosystems.
  • Main points to be covered include:
  1. Dung beetles use the position of the stars, other celestial objects, and the observed orientation of the Milky Way to navigate their dung ball away from the dung pile.
  2. Dung beetles impact the environment beyond their local ecosystem by tunneling into, carrying away, and eating dung, which, among other things, reduces green house gas emissions that contribute to human- induced climate change.
  3. Humans impact the dung beetle’s ecosystem with light pollution, which makes it more difficult for the dung beetles to navigate.
  4. Humans and dung beetles have the potential to have a symbiotic relationship – one that benefits both species – but it is up to humans not to ruin this relationship with light pollution.

Teaching Method(s)

  • Kinesthetic Activities
  • Expository Presentation
  • Hands-on and Demo activities

Concepts Addressed

Testimonials and pictures

Primary Authors

K.D. Denney, K. Croxall, W. Schlingman

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