Visual homing in field crickets and desert ants: a comparative behavioural and modelling study
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Visually guided navigation represents a long standing goal in robotics. Insights may be drawn from various insect species for which visual information has been shown sufficient for navigation in complex environments, however the generality of visual homing abilities across insect species remains unclear. Furthermore variousmodels have been proposed as strategies employed by navigating insects yet comparative studies across models and species are lacking. This work addresses these questions in two insect species not previously studied: the field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus for which almost no navigational data is available; and the European desert ant Cataglyphis velox, a relation of the African desert ant Cataglyphis bicolor which has become a model species for insect navigation studies. The ability of crickets to return to a hidden target using surrounding visual cues was tested using an analogue of the Morris water-maze, a standard paradigm for spatial memory testing in rodents. Crickets learned to re-locate the hidden target using the provided visual cues, with the best performance recorded when a natural image was provided as stimulus rather than clearly identifiable landmarks. The role of vision in navigation was also observed for desert ants within their natural habitat. Foraging ants formed individual, idiosyncratic, visually guided routes through their cluttered surroundings as has been reported in other ant species inhabiting similar environments. In the absence of other cues ants recalled their route even when displaced along their path indicating that ants recall previously visited places rather than a sequence of manoeuvres. Image databases were collected within the environments experienced by the insects using custompanoramic cameras that approximated the insect eye viewof the world. Six biologically plausible visual homing models were implemented and their performance assessed across experimental conditions. The models were first assessed on their ability to replicate the relative performance across the various visual surrounds in which crickets were tested. That is, best performance was sought with the natural scene, followed by blank walls and then the distinct landmarks. Only two models were able to reproduce the pattern of results observed in crickets: pixel-wise image difference with RunDown and the centre of mass average landmark vector. The efficacy of models was then assessed across locations in the ant habitat. A 3D world was generated from the captured images providing noise free and high spatial resolution images asmodel input. Best performancewas found for optic flow and image difference based models. However in many locations the centre of mass average landmark vector failed to provide reliable guidance. This work shows that two previously unstudied insect species can navigate using surrounding visual cues alone. Moreover six biologically plausible models of visual navigation were assessed in the same environments as the insects and only an image difference based model succeeded in all experimental conditions.