How a Wasp Finds Its Way Back Home with Its Impressive Memory and Vision

First Posted: Feb 15, 2016 10:39 AM EST

How do wasps navigate back home? Scientists have reconstructed what wasps see when they leave their nests, which may reveal how these insects find their way back home at the end of the day.

Earlier studies showed that arcs wasps tend to travel in learning flights, which are flights away from their nest, and follow a remarkably precise pattern. Researchers also knew that wasps make very similar maneuvers in return flights as they do when they venture out for today.

In this latest study, the researchers decided to capture what exactly wasps see. They recorded the wasps' head orientation with two high-speed stereo cameras. Then, the scientists moved a panoramic imager along the paths flown by the wasps and build 3D models of the wasps' environment to render views inside these models.

The researchers then used the views to test specific predictions about what wasps during their learning fights and how they use this information to guide their return. The scientists then tested their predictions by simulating homing flights of wasps in virtual reality.

The researchers found that wasps monitor changing views during learning flights and use the differences they experience relative to previously encountered views to decide when to begin a new arc. When the wasps encounter a familiar view on the way home, they move to the right or left, depending on the direction of the nest relative to what they've seen.

"Our findings tell us how wonderfully autonomous, flexible and robust wasps are with their ability to know places in the world and shuttle back and forth between them," said Jochen Zeil, one of the researchers, in a news release. "They share this fundamentally important skill with most animals on earth."

The findings reveal a bit more about wasps and show how these amazing insects manage to find their way back home.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

You can see the video here.

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