A bee in the corridor: centering and wall-following
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In an attempt to better understand the mechanism underlying lateral collision avoidance in flying insects, we trained honeybees (Apis mellifera) to fly through a large (95-cm wide) flight tunnel. We found that, depending on the entrance and feeder positions, honeybees would either center along the corridor midline or fly along one wall. Bees kept following one wall even when a major (150-cm long) part of the opposite wall was removed. These findings cannot be accounted for by the “optic flow balance” hypothesis that has been put forward to explain the typical bees’ “centering response” observed in narrower corridors. Both centering and wall-following behaviors are well accounted for, however, by a control scheme called the lateral optic flow regulator, i.e., a feedback system that strives to maintain the unilateral optic flow constant. The power of this control scheme is that it would allow the bee to guide itself visually in a corridor without having to measure its speed or distance from the walls.
KeywordsInsect flight Honeybee Apis mellifera Vision Optic flow Collision avoidance Image motion
We are grateful to Stéphane Viollet and Goeffrey Portelli for their fruitful comments and suggestions during this work, to Serge Dini (beekeeper) for his expert knowledge on honeybees’ behavior, to Marc Boyron (electronics engineer), Yannick Luparini, and Fabien Paganucci (mechanical engineers), and Robert Tollari (land surveyor) for their expert technical assistance, to Dominique de Vienne for his help with the statistical analysis. The three anonymous referees’ constructive comments have improved the paper considerably, and we are very grateful to them. This research was supported by CNRS (Life Science and Information & Engineering Science), by EU contract (IST/FET–1999-29043) and DGA contract (2005-0451037).
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