Neuroarchitecture of the dung beetle central complex

J Comp Neurol. 2018 Nov 1;526(16):2612-2630. doi: 10.1002/cne.24520. Epub 2018 Oct 22.


Despite their tiny brains, insects show impressive abilities when navigating over short distances during path integration or during migration over thousands of kilometers across entire continents. Celestial compass cues often play an important role as references during navigation. In contrast to many other insects, South African dung beetles rely exclusively on celestial cues for visual reference during orientation. After finding a dung pile, these animals cut off a piece of dung from the pat, shape it into a ball and roll it away along a straight path until a suitable place for underground consumption is found. To maintain a constant bearing, a brain region in the beetle's brain, called the central complex, is crucially involved in the processing of skylight cues, similar to what has already been shown for path-integrating and migrating insects. In this study, we characterized the neuroanatomy of the sky-compass network and the central complex in the dung beetle brain in detail. Using tracer injections, combined with imaging and 3D modeling, we describe the anatomy of the possible sky-compass network in the central brain. We used a quantitative approach to study the central-complex network and found that several types of neuron exhibit a highly organized connectivity pattern. The architecture of the sky-compass network and central complex is similar to that described in insects that perform path integration or are migratory. This suggests that, despite their different orientation behaviors, this neural circuitry for compass orientation is highly conserved among the insects.

Keywords: Scarabaeus; RRID: AB_2315426; anatomy; insect; navigation; orientation; polarized light; vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Coleoptera / anatomy & histology*
  • Neurons / cytology*