Home > Papers from 2011 > Don’t mention the C-word.

Don’t mention the C-word.

It is unlikely that debates about insects’ representations of space will be cleared up anytime soon. No doubt we are doomed to discuss cognitive maps for many more years and people will continue to search for cognitive maps in insects, even when we don’t really have a consensus on what a cognitive map is and what it should do. However, it is still possible to ask very specific questions about spatial representations where the answers have significant mechanistic implications. It is in this spirit that I choose to take this recent paper from Menzel et al. Using radar, they tracked bees that had knowledge of two feeding sites. One they were familiar with from their own foraging and a second they had acquired information about from following waggle dances. The paths of a significant subset of these bees showed direct flight segments from one feeder location to the other. This shows clearly that as bees travel toward one location they are able to hold information in working memory about other feeder locations.

This implications of this finding are debatable, Menzel et al choose to invoke higher level mechanisms than I think are necessary, but the debate is fascinating and (just as importantly) worthwhile, because it relates to a specific, well-defined and observed behaviour.  Surely debating the mechanisms needed to produce a well-defined behaviour is more fruitful than deciding whether observed behaviour requires an ill-defined theoretical construct like a cognitive map.

Menzel et al (2011) A Common Frame of Reference for Learned and Communicated Vectors in Honeybee Navigation. Current Biology.  10.1016/j.cub.2011.02.039

Categories: Papers from 2011
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