Science: Beetle Battles

On the dilemma of horns

Why do dung beetles have horns?

Insignificant as the question may seem, it has puzzled entomologists for years. Are the protuberances weapons? Are they decorations for attracting the opposite sex? Indeed, do they serve any purpose at all? Timothy Palmer, a young scientist at Britain's Imperial College Field Station, outside London, decided to settle the matter once and for all.

As his subject, Palmer turned to Typhoeus typhoeus, commonly known as the minotaur beetle. Barely larger than a pebble, this long, shiny black bug is found throughout sandy areas of...

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