Dung beetles spend their nights rolling balls of dung to hiding places where they are used as food. Rather unpleasant.
Like many unpleasant jobs in the real world, though, the work the dung beetles do plays an important role in nature and agriculture. Without them, the planet would be a much dirtier place. But we often judge creatures (and people) by what they do—or what we think they do—because it’s convenient. Consider the lion, respected as “king of the jungle.”
If an anthropomorphic dung beetle were to be featured in a Disney film it would probably be portrayed as having one of the least desirable jobs in the animal kingdom. A bumbling, comically-rendered character rolling balls of dung would make an obvious target for gags. It probably wouldn’t be shown as smart, or as some sort of stargazer.
But that would be a mistake. Because dung beetles are more than what they seem. You might say they are cosmically-minded. Incredibly, these beetles use the Milky Way to navigate. Perched upon a ball of dung, they orient themselves using the panoply of stars splashed across the South African sky. No other creature is known to do that. How many people can do that?
Imagine, knee deep in feces, with tiny eyes, and they’re aware of the symmetry of distant stars.