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Scientists Uncover Method for Wasps' 'Learning Flights' for First Time


A team of scientists learned what goes into a "learning flight," which wasps and other insects perform before leaving their nest in order to find their way back.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the new study details what bugs actually see during these flights with the use of high-speed cameras and software that would help them track the insects' head movements.

"They back away from the nest in a series of widening arcs, pivoting around the nest while looking back," study co-author Jochen Zeil, who investigates ecological neuroscience at the Australian National University, told Live Science. "While flying along these arcs, the insects see the nest environment from different directions and distances, and always keep the nest in their left or right visual field."

Scientists already knew about these learning flights, but the new study focused on providing an explanation for them. This process of discovering the purpose behind learning flights reportedly took the researchers 10 years.

"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," Zeil said in a press release. "They share this fundamentally important skill with most animals on earth.

"It will be interesting to implement the learning and homing rules we found into flying robots to test the validity and limits of our findings.

"We want to understand what trick the insects are using to acquire the competence of homing."

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