Home > Papers from 2015 > Flight control in bumblebees

Flight control in bumblebees

The control principles employed by bees as they fly through the world are often cited as an example of biological efficiency. Bees can control their position and speed without estimating the absolute distance to other objects in the world, but by balancing optic flow speeds from the two halfs of the visual field and keeping the total optic flow below a threshold amount. This ensures that the maximal distance is maintained to objects in the world and that the bee slows down in object dense situations. Here, Linander et al. investigate the details of these control principles using an elegant design. Bees fly down a tunnel and at a certain point the patterns on the walls of the tunnel are switched to be asymmetrical. By observing at what point bees change their speed and position in the tunnel, one can infer what eye regions are important for the flight control. They find (in their own words): “Our results reveal that the visual region over which bumblebees respond to optic flow cues for flight control is not dictated by a set viewing angle. Instead, they appear to use the maximum magnitude of translational optic flow experienced in the frontal visual field. This strategy ensures that bumblebees use the translational optic flow generated by the nearest obstacles – that is, those with which they have the highest risk of colliding – to control flight.”

Nellie Linander, Marie Dacke and Emily Baird (2015) Bumblebees measure optic flow for position and speed control flexibly within the frontal visual field.  J Exp Biol jeb.107409

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Categories: Papers from 2015
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