Home > Papers from 2013 > Getting blown away and then getting back

Getting blown away and then getting back

Many animals have to try and recover from unintended displacements caused by wind. Many flying insects have super fast optic flow mechanisms that are used to ensure that flight direction is as intended. For an ant that is caught by a sudden gust and then tumbles across the surface, an immediate and accurate correction is impossible. What’s more the tumbling will ensure that calculating the unintended displacement from the experienced optic flow would also be almost impossible. However, we know that ants can make sensible corrections from such displacements. Wystrach and Schwarz have demonstrated this by blowing ants away from a feeder and then releasing them from an unfamiliar location. From these locations, ants adopted a direction that was opposite to the direction of displacement. As ants were blown away it was noted that they respond to wind by lowering their centre of mass and ‘clutching’ the substrate. Ants that ‘clutched’ but were not blown away would still take a direction opposite to the wind when released on unfamiliar ground; Whereas ants denied a view of the sky whilst clutching did not show purposeful headings on release. From these elegant manipulations we learn that ants are able to integrate their current facing direction – information acquired from a geocentric compass – with the egocentric perception of the wind. This multi-modal calculation gives ants the geocentric direction of the wind and allows them to counter this when the displacement is over. Neat.

A. Wystrach, S. Schwarz (2013) Ants use a predictive mechanism to compensate for passive displacements by wind Current Biology – 16 December 2013 (Vol. 23, Issue 24, pp. R1083-R1085)

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