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Learning walks

Since the seminal experiments of Tinbergen, we have known that insects utilise choreographed movements to learn about the appearance of their nest surroundings. These movements are known as learning walks or learning flights. Experiments with bees have shown how a small number of learning/orientation flights can suffice for an individual to successfully home from a wide area. Fleischmann et al. add significantly to our understanding of these behaviours by looking in detail at the ontogeny of learning walks in desert ants. They show that ants complete a significant number of learning walks before foraging commences. Interestingly, they take ants who are in the the middle of their sequence of learning walks and test how much they have learnt about the visual surroundings of the nest. The precision of ants in their search for the fictive nest is quite poor initially. This suggests that visual learning is slow in these ants, or perhaps that early learning walks have a more general purpose, rather than simple visual learning.
Fleischmann, P. N., Christian, M., Müller, V. L., Rössler, W., & Wehner, R. (2016). Ontogeny of learning walks and the acquisition of landmark information in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis. Journal of Experimental Biology, jeb-140459.
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