Before ground wasps fly away to forage, they take distinctive learning flights, such as swirling in arcs around the nest, to find visual clues that will help them navigate back to their burrow, according to a new research.
When they leave their nests for the day, solitary wasps (as well as other insects) perform test flights, which usually involve making loops around the nest location, to help them orient themselves when they come back home after foraging, scientists said.
After a ten-year research – published on Thursday (Feb. 11) in the online journal Current Biology – scientists were able to fully understand the process of performing learning flights.
Jochen Zeil, co-author of the study who also investigates ecological neuroscience at the Australian National University, said that when solitary ground wasps conduct their precise manoeuvres they follow a certain pattern that is quite common among insect species that are also known to perform test flights.
According to Zeil, the wasps make a series of widening arcs while backing away from their nests. The insects observe their nest environment from different distances and directions, and at the same time, they keep the nest in their right or left visual field, Zeil explained.
The scientists used high-speed cameras and recorded the wasps’ take offs and return flights to figure out what the ground wasps saw during the flights. The wasps’ movements were captured with synchronized video cameras, and software was used to see the direction of the insects’ gaze and the position of their heads.
The terrain around the nest was modelled in 3D with a panoramic imager. Using all the data, the scientists were able to recreate the wasp’s flights, and to also fly around the nest (in a virtual setting) and see things from the wasp’s point of view.
With the 3D (three dimensional) digital map of the wasp’s sight lines and body position during flight, as well as a virtual environment map, the scientists found that their simulations matched the wasps’ behaviour – specifically when they compared orientation flight patterns with return flights patterns.
The new research may lead to further studies on how the internal Global Positioning System (GPS) develops in various insect species. That could help scientists better understand how animals process data input from their environment.
Image Source: abc