It is certainly true that social insects get more than their fair share of the limelight regarding navigation behaviours. So it is really great to see a review pointing out that these mechanisms are not unique and can be found across the insect world.

Abstract: ” Spatial orientation is important for animals to forage, mate, migrate, and escape certain threats, and can require simple to complex cognitive abilities and behaviours. As these behaviours are more difficult to experimentally test in vertebrates, considerable research has focussed on investigating spatial orientation in insects. However, the majority of insect spatial orientation research tends to focus on a few taxa of interest, especially social insects. Beetles present an interesting insect group to study in this respect, due to their diverse taxonomy and biology, and prevalence as agricultural pests. In this article, I review research on beetle spatial orientation. Then, I use this synthesis to discuss mechanisms beetles employ in the context of different behaviours that require orientation or navigation. I conclude by discussing two future avenues for behavioural research on this topic, which could lead to more robust conclusions on how species in this diverse order are able to traverse through a wide variety of environments.”

de Jongh, E. (2021) Navigation and orientation in Coleoptera: a review of strategies and mechanisms. Animal Cognition

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Mushroom Body outputs and behaviour

We know that the Mushroom Bodies of the insect brain are crucial for the learning of information needed for navigation, However, the fine details of how MBs are involved in controlling behaviour are still unclear. We’ll certainly need more of this kind of work, where MB outputs are related to behaviour.

Abstract: “Central place foraging insects like honeybees and bumblebees learn to navigate efficiently between nest and feeding site. Essential components of this behavior can be moved to the laboratory. A major component of navigational learning is the active exploration of the test arena. These conditions have been used here to search for neural correlates of exploratory walking in the central arena (ground), and thigmotactic walking in the periphery (slope). We chose mushroom body extrinsic neurons (MBENs) because of their learning-related plasticity and their multi-modal sensitivities that may code relevant parameters in a brain state-dependent way. Our aim was to test whether MBENs code space-related components or are more involved in state-dependent processes characterizing exploration and thigmotaxis. MBENs did not respond selectively to body directions or locations. Their spiking activity differently correlated with walking speed depending on the animals’ locations: on the ground, reflecting exploration, or on the slope, reflecting thigmotaxis. This effect depended on walking speed in different ways for different animals. We then asked whether these effects depended on spatial parameters or on the two states, exploration and thigmotaxis. Significant epochs of stable changes in spiking did not correlate with restricted locations in the arena, body direction, or walking transitions between ground and slope. We thus conclude that the walking speed dependencies are caused by the two states, exploration and thigmotaxis, rather than by spatial parameters.”

Jin, N., Paffhausen, B. H., Duer, A., & Menzel, R. (2020). Mushroom Body Extrinsic Neurons in Walking Bumblebees correlate with behavioral states but not with spatial parameters during exploratory behavior. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14.

Categories: Uncategorized

Taking the time to learn?

This is a beautiful piece of experimental work showing how the foraging ecology of an insect influences its spatial learning. We all know that bees perform learning flights after discovering a new food resource. These special maneuvers allow the forager to learn the appearance and location of the profitable site. In general, if the food is higher quality, then bees spend longer on their learning flights, i.e. they invest more time on learning for a higher quality resource. Frasnelli et al looked at the fine details of this relationship for different sized bumblebees. Larger bees did increase their learning flights with increased food quality, but smaller bees did not? In bumblebees, larger foragers travel longer distances and can be more selective over their flower choice – reflected in their ability to modulate learning. In contrast, smaller bees, as short range foragers, don’t show this pattern, perhaps being less picky.

Frasnelli, E., Robert, T., Chow, P. K. Y., Scales, B., Gibson, S., Manning, N., … & de Ibarra, N. H. (2021). Small and large bumblebees invest differently when learning about flowers. Current Biology, 31(5), 1058-1064.

Categories: Papers from 2021

The fine details of head movements during orientation

“… by shaping the movement of the head and body in an active and controlled manner, flying insects structure their flights to facilitate the acquisition of distance information. They condense their turns into a short period of time (the saccade) interspaced by a relatively long translation (the intersaccade). However, due to technological limitations, the precise coordination of the head and thorax during insects’ free-flight remains unclear. Here, we propose methods to analyse the orientation of the head and thorax of bumblebees Bombus terrestris, to segregate the trajectories of flying insects into saccades and intersaccades by using supervised machine learning (ML) techniques, … We anticipate our assay to be a starting point for more sophisticated experiments and analysis on freely flying insects. For example, the coordination of head and body movements during collision avoidance, chasing behavior, or negotiation of gaps could be investigated by monitoring the head and thorax orientation of freely flying insects within and across behavioral tasks, and in different species.”

Odenthal, L., Doussot, C., Meyer, S., & Bertrand, O. J. (2021). Analysing Head-Thorax Choreography During Free-Flights in Bumblebees. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14, 260.

“[during learning flights] Bees employ a saccadic flight and gaze strategy, where rapid turns of the head (saccades) alternate with flight segments of apparently constant gaze direction (intersaccades). When during intersaccades the gaze direction is kept relatively constant, the apparent motion contains information about the distance of the animal to environmental objects, and thus, in an egocentric reference frame. Alternatively, when the gaze direction rotates around a fixed point in space, the animal perceives the depth structure relative to this pivot point, i.e., in an allocentric reference frame. If the pivot point is at the nest-hole, the information is nest-centric. Here, we investigate in which reference frames bumblebees perceive depth information during their learning flights. By precisely tracking the head orientation, we found that half of the time, the head appears to pivot actively. However, only few of the corresponding pivot points are close to the nest entrance.”

Doussot, C., Bertrand, O. J., & Egelhaaf, M. (2020). The critical role of head movements for spatial representation during bumblebees learning flight. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14.

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2nd wave covid catch-up: Navigation in mantis shrimp

An interesting newcomer to the study of invertebrate navigation. Mantis shrimp have been previously well-studied for their interesting visual systems, but here across a pair of papers Patel  and Cronin show that mantis shrimp possess the ability to navigate using the classic pair of navigation strategies: path integration and landmark use. Welcome to the club!

Patel, R. N., & Cronin, T. W. (2020). Mantis shrimp navigate home using celestial and idiothetic path integration. Current Biology, 30(11), 1981-1987.

Patel, R. N., & Cronin, T. W. (2020). Landmark navigation in a mantis shrimp. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287(1936), 20201898.

Categories: Papers from 2020

2nd wave covid catch-up: Visual Navigation

Schwarz, S., Mangan, M., Webb, B., & Wystrach, A. (2020). Route-following ants respond to alterations of the view sequence. Journal of Experimental Biology, 223(14), jeb218701.

“[ant] behaviour suggests that previously encountered views influence the recognition of current views … revealing a sequence component to route memory.”

Doussot, C., Bertrand, O. J., & Egelhaaf, M. (2020). Visually guided homing of bumblebees in ambiguous situations: A behavioural and modelling study. PLoS computational biology, 16(10), e1008272.

“We recorded bumblebees’ return flights [as] they search for their nest entrance following … displacement between two visually relevant cues. Bumblebees mostly searched at the fictive nest location as indicated by either cue constellation, but never at a compromise location between them. We compared these experimental results to the predictions of different types of homing models.“

Kócsi, Z., Murray, T., Dahmen, H., Narendra, A., & Zeil, J. (2020). The antarium: A reconstructed visual reality device for ant navigation research. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 14, 203.

“[The Antarium is a large] projection device with 20,000 UV-Blue-Green LEDs that allows us to present tethered ants with views of their natural foraging environment. The ants walk on an air-cushioned trackball, their movements are registered and can be fed back to the visual panorama. Views are generated in a 3D model of the ants’ environment so that they experience the changing visual world in the same way as they do when foraging naturally.”

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2nd wave covid catch-up: Animal Cognition Special Issue

November 2020 saw a fantastic special issue on ‘Arthropod Spatial Cognition’ in ‘Animal Cognition’ the journal. Sarah Pfeffer and Harald Wolf did a fantastic job in putting together 15 articles with a really nice range of species covered in both research and review articles. Go have a look:

Magnetoreception in Hymenoptera: importance for navigation

Pauline N. Fleischmann, Robin Grob & Wolfgang Rössler

The effect of spatially restricted experience on extrapolating learned views in desert ants, Melophorus bagoti

Sudhakar Deeti Kazuki Fujii & Ken Cheng

Effect of large visual changes on the navigation of the nocturnal bull ant, Myrmecia midas

Muzahid Islam Cody A. Freas & Ken Cheng

Obstacle avoidance in bumblebees is robust to changes in light intensity

Emily Baird

Pheromone cue triggers switch between vectors in the desert harvest ant, Veromessor pergandei

Cody A. Freas Jenna V. Congdon & Marcia L. Spetch

Accuracy and spread of nest search behaviour in the Saharan silver ant, Cataglyphis bombycina, and in the salt pan species, Cataglyphis fortis

Sarah Pfeffer Verena Wahl & Harald Wolf

Multi-modal cue integration in the black garden ant

Massimo De Agrò Felix Benjamin Oberhauser & Lucia Regolin

Multimodal interactions in insect navigation

Cornelia Buehlmann Michael Mangan & Paul Graham

Spatial cognition in the context of foraging styles and information transfer in ants

Zhanna Reznikova

A dung beetle that path integrates without the use of landmarks

Marie Dacke Basil el Jundi & Emily Baird

Shells as ‘extended architecture’: to escape isolation, social hermit crabs choose shells with the right external architecture

Jakob Krieger Marie K. Hörnig & Mark E. Laidre

Homing in the arachnid taxa Araneae and Amblypygi

Joaquín Ortega-Escobar

Vertical-surface navigation in the Neotropical whip spider Paraphrynus laevifrons (Arachnida: Amblypygi)

Patrick Casto et al 

Non-visual homing and the current status of navigation in scorpions

Emily Danielle Prévost & Torben Stemme

Categories: Papers from 2020

2nd wave covid catch-up: Review Articles

How does ecology influence sensori-motor systems

Baird, E., Tichit, P., & Guiraud, M. (2020). The neuroecology of bee flight behaviours. Current Opinion in Insect Science.

An overview of one of the most successful study systems in insect orientation

Dacke, M., Baird, E., El Jundi, B., Warrant, E. J., & Byrne, M. (2021). How dung beetles steer straight. Annual Review of Entomology, 66, 243-256.

Insights from a stellar career looking at bees for engineering inspiration 

Srinivasan, M. V. (2020). Vision, perception, navigation and ‘cognition’ in honeybees and applications to aerial robotics. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

Categorising orientation behaviour to help identify convergent examples

Grob, R., el Jundi, B., & Fleischmann, P. N. (2021). Towards a common terminology for arthropod spatial orientation. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 1-21.

How insect navigation gives us a model for studying embodied intelligence

Wystrach, A. (2021). Movements, embodiment and the emergence of decisions. Insights from insect navigation. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 564, 70-77.

When the wind blows

In the last few years, research on the Central Complex compass circuit in insects has been transformative in our ability to think about the underpinning mechanisms of the many remarkable navigation behaviours we have all studied.  One thing that behavioural experiments have always shown is the ability of insects to utilise a broad array of sensory cues and to integrate or select between them based on reliability. Here, Okubo et al. show the the Ellipsoid Body compass circuit can be driven by wind information in the same way that it is driven by visual and self-motion cues. The wind information comes via ring neurons, similarly to visual information. Recently, it was shown elsewhere that plasticity in that visual input, can help tune the compass circuit to reliable local visual cues. Presumably a similar process happens to establish when wind information is reliable.

Okubo, T. S., Patella, P., D’Alessandro, I., & Wilson, R. I. (2020). A Neural Network for Wind-Guided Compass Navigation. Neuron.

Categories: Papers from 2020

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there

I can’t get enough of articles like this. A historical account of the foundational work on invertebrate intelligence from pioneering scientists over the last 150 years. The value for me comes from the realisation of how intellectually brave one had to be to be able to see the interesting and important questions, never mind the possible answers. Here, Randolph Menzel has written a lovely piece. Accessible, informative and fascinating. More please!

Menzel, R. (2020). A short history of studies on intelligence and brain in honeybees. Apidologie, 1-12.

Categories: Papers from 2020