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Flying: Wasps Fly Backwards To Find Their Way Back Home [VIDEO]

Feb 16, 2016 09:04 AM EST
Ground-nesting wasps take learning flights to find their way back home.
(Photo : Waltraud Pix. )

Scientists have released a high-speed video that shows the world through the eyes of ground-nesting sand wasps, Cerceris australis. The video reconstructs how the wasps take series of "learning flights" to capture "snapshots" of the landscape around their nests, ensuring they can find their way home after a long day of foraging.

"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," Jochen Zeil, one of the study authors from the Australian National University in Canberra, said in a news release. "They share this fundamentally important skill with most animals on earth."

Before the wasps leave home, individuals turn to face the entrance of their nest rather than facing out toward their destination. Then they move around the nest gradually gaining height and distance with every spin and shifting their gaze from side to side. This, researchers say, allows them to remember the location of their nest and identify distinctive features, such as stones or fallen leaves.

To learn more about how the wasps collect such information, Zeil and his team used high-speed cameras to track the head movements and body position of wasps performing their test flights. They also built a 3D model to map their flight pattern. All in all, researchers spent ten years investigating the wasps' behaviors. "They look back at the nest from the viewpoint of their future return,"

"It's a bit like when you leave a hotel in an unfamiliar environment. To make sure you recognize it when you come back, you turn back as you are leaving it," Zeil added. "It's a very smart way of obtaining all the information you need to get back."

Researchers suggest their findings may apply to other nesting insects like bees and ants, and could one day be used to improve navigation capabilities of flying robots.

Their study was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

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