Animal Homing

Part of the series Chapman & Hall Animal Behaviour Series pp 45-144


  • Rüdiger Wehner

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More than 200 years ago, Lazzaro Spallanzani (Accademia d’Italia, 1934) wondered how birds — sand martins in his case — found their way back home after they had been displaced inadvertently to unknown territory, but the first to marvel at the amazing homing abilities of insects was Jean Henri Fabre (1879, 1882). He released some megachilid bees and sphecid wasps up to 4 km away from home and was surprised to find that many of them returned to their nesting sites the very same day. Even though he performed a number of experiments including the attachment of tiny magnets to the homing bees, he finally was left with the conclusion that his experimental animals possessed some enigmatic sense of directionality. Nevertheless he started what can be called the first period of research on homing in insects. In this period, which culminated in the discovery of the insect’s celestial compass (Santschi, 1911, 1923; see Wehner, 1990a), most investigators focused on the sensory basis of insect navigation.