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Planet Earth

Galloping dung beetles, Batman! Scientists discover the first insects that gallop.

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceAugust 4, 2014 3:00 PM


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Dung beetles are truly amazing insects. They roll giant balls of poop around (of which they have favorite flavors, of course); they often come with giant horns; they can navigate using the stars; and now we find out that some of them can gallop! Prior to this scientific report, it was thought that all insects moved using the "double tripod" gait, wherein the front and rear legs on one side move forward in concert with the middle leg on the other side (one tripod, see video above), followed by the remaining three legs making up the second tripod. However, these scientists have discovered three separate species of dung beetle that gallop using their front four legs. The two rear-most legs are used to attach to the dung ball (when there is one), but otherwise just get dragged along. It's still unclear why these dung beetles gallop; they don't move any faster than the more traditionally-moving dung beetle species. But that doesn't make it any less cute!

A new galloping gait in an insect. "An estimated three million insect species all walk using variations of the alternating tripod gait. At any one time, these animals hold one stable triangle of legs steady while swinging the opposite triangle forward. Here, we report the discovery that three different flightless desert dung beetles use an additional gallop-like gait, which has never been described in any insect before. Like a bounding hare, the beetles propel their body forward by synchronously stepping with both middle legs and then both front legs. Surprisingly, this peculiar galloping gait delivers lower speeds than the alternating tripod gait. Why these beetles have shifted so radically away from the most widely used walking style on our planet is as yet unknown." Related content: NCBI ROFL: Dung beetles use Uranus for orientation. NCBI ROFL: Yes, dung beetles do have favorite flavors of poop. NCBI ROFL: Bionic insect cyborgs: 90% insect, 10% robot, 100% terrifying.

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