My friend and I sat across the table from each other last evening and while we downed our ladylike dinners (her a smallish taco salad and me a bowl of soup), we contemplated some of life’s serious questions. Earlier in the afternoon we had mulled over if we believed that there is a reason for everything? (no), do we believe it is possible to make lemonade out of lemons? (yes), is promiscuous hugging soul-satisfying? (perhaps for the hugger but not for the hugged), and at our age can we still grow and change? (we hope). During dinner our thoughts lightened up a bit to more practical things, as how long it takes to be at ease in the role of a widow (her) and the distasteful possibility of disrupting my adult children’s lives by asking them for help (me).
I had an hour’s drive home from her house after dinner, and in a strange twist of thought, my brain settled on an article I had read a week earlier in the LA Times about the dung beetle. The actual thought I had as I drove on a freeway (which had as many car headlights on it as the sky has stars in the Milky Way) is that dung beetles are so busy living that they don’t have time to worry if anything philosophical is waiting to be discussed. They are busy pushing around a big ball of animal excrement many times the size of their own body so that they can always have a handy food source.
This article, written by Joseph Serna, wasn’t meant to be funny, but I found it so. Serna says scientists have found that dung beetles roll the balls of dung to keep it away from preditors who might see it as tonight’s steak dinner. The point of the story is that the dung beetles use the Milky Way to roll the balls in a straight line; on an overcast night they might just roll it in a circle, which would keep it very handy for some kind of a hungry insect thief.
Now the scientists set up all kinds of parameters for their tests. To eliminate any side-issues as helping to govern the direction of the dung ball, they built a dung rolling course on a South African game reserve called Stonehenge. They built meter-high walls so nothing on the ground could be used as a point of reference. These scientists discovered that on clear nights when the Milky Way was visible, the beetles rolled the ball in a straight line. When the sky was overcast, they went helter-skelter in every which direction.
Writer Serna gave me a belly-laugh when he reported the following: The researchers even taped makeshift cardboard visors to the beetle’s heads, blocking their view of the sky to eliminate all doubt. To no one’s surprise, the beetles wandered aimlessly, showing no sense of direction.
There were enough experiments to allow the scientists to prove to a statistical certainty their theory that dung beetles use the Milky Way to provide a getaway for their food course.
The freeway traffic thinned out as I got closer to home, and while it was still heavy enough that I really couldn’t look through the windshield and see the Milky Way, I thought of all those dung beetles around the world whose goal in life was to get to a place where his or her dung ball was safe, and it made me think that my friend and I really ought to spend our time thinking of some really important things and not spend quite so much time picking fuzz out of our navels!