Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 177, Issue 6, pp 737–747 | Cite as

Making learning easy: the acquisition of visual information during the orientation flights of social wasps

  • T. S. Collett
Original Paper


The flights of individual wasps (Vespula) were recorded as they approached a small feeder on the ground that was marked by a black cylinder ca 15 cm away. Two navigational strategies are used in these approaches. Initially, the wasp aims at the cylinder, treating it as a beacon and fixating it with frontal retina. In the last stage of the flight, the wasp assumes a preferred orientation so that the cylinder takes up a constant, more peripheral retinal position as the wasp nears the feeder. Path guidance by image-matching is likely to be limited to this final segment of the return. Wasps could gain the information needed for these distinct navigational strategies during the learning flights that they perform on their initial departures from the feeder. They fly away from the feeder in a series of arcs while turning at a mean angular velocity of 226°/s. The cylinder tends to be viewed with frontal retina during the arcs suggesting that the information required for aiming at the cylinder is acquired then. For image matching, the appearance of the cylinder needs to be learnt when the wasp is in the orientation that it adopts close to the feeder on its return flight. Wasps tend to assume this orientation during learning flights while they face the feeder. Such inspections of the feeder occur at the ends of arcs when a wasp's turning velocity is low.

Key words

Learning flights Visual navigation Visual landmarks Preferred views Wasps 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Becker L (1958) Untersuchungen über das Heimfindevermögen der Bienen. Z. Vergl Physiol 41: 1–25Google Scholar
  2. Cartwright BA, Collett TS (1983) Landmark learning in bees: experiments and models. J Comp Physiol 151: 521–543Google Scholar
  3. Cheng K, Collett TS, Pickhard A, Wehner R (1987) The use of visual landmarks by honeybees: Bees weight landmarks according to their distance from the goal. J Comp Physiol A 161: 469–475Google Scholar
  4. Collett TS (1992) Landmark learning and guidance in insects. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 337: 295–302Google Scholar
  5. Collett TS, Baron J (1994) Biological compasses and the coordinate frame of landmark memories in honeybees. Nature 368: 137–140Google Scholar
  6. Collett TS, Lehrer M (1993) Looking and learning: a spatial pattern in the orientation flight of the wasp Vespula vulgaris. Proc R Soc Lond B 252: 129–134Google Scholar
  7. Krackauer DC (1995) Simple connectionist models of spatial memory in bees. J Theor Biol 172: 149–160Google Scholar
  8. Lehrer M (1993) Why do bees turn back and look? J Comp Physiol A 172: 544–563Google Scholar
  9. Lehrer M, Collett TS (1994) Approaching and departing bees learn different cues to the distance of a landmark. J Comp Physiol A 175: 171–177Google Scholar
  10. Tinbergen N (1932) Über die Orientierung des Bienenwolfes (Philanthus triangulum Fabr.). Z Vergl Physiol 16: 305–335Google Scholar
  11. Vollbehr J (1975) Zur Orientierung junger Honigbienen bei ihrem ersten Orientierungsflug. Zool Jb Allg Zool Physiol 79: 33–69Google Scholar
  12. Wagner W (1907) Psychobiologische Untersuchungen an Hummeln. Zoologica 19: 1–239Google Scholar
  13. Wehner R (1992) Arthropods. In: Papi F (ed) Animal homing. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 45–144Google Scholar
  14. Zeil J (1993a) Orientation flights of solitary wasps (Cerceris; Sphecidae; Hymenoptera)1. Description of flight. J Comp Physiol A 172: 189–205Google Scholar
  15. Zeil J (1993b) Orientation flights of solitary wasps (Cerceris; Sphecidae; Hymenoptera) 11. Similarities between orientation and return flights and the use of motion parallax. J Comp Physiol A 17: 207–222Google Scholar
  16. Zeil J, Kelber A (1991) Orientation flights in ground-nesting wasps and bees share a common organisation. Verh Dtsch Zool Ges 84: 371–372Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. S. Collett
    • 1
  1. 1.Sussex Centre for Neuroscience, School of Biological Sciences, University of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations