How do insects use path integration for their navigation?

Biol Cybern. 2000 Sep;83(3):245-59. doi: 10.1007/s004220000168.


We combine experimental findings on ants and bees, and build on earlier models, to give an account of how these insects navigate using path integration, and how path integration interacts with other modes of navigation. At the core of path integration is an accumulator. This is set to an initial state at the nest and is updated as the insect moves so that it always reports the insect's current position relative to the nest. Navigation that uses path integration requires, in addition, a way of storing states of the accumulator at significant places for subsequent recall as goals, and a means of computing the direction to such goals. We discuss three models of how path integration might be used for this process, which we call vector navigation. Vector navigation is the principal means of navigating over unfamiliar terrain, or when landmarks are unavailable. Under other conditions, insects often navigate by landmarks, and ignore the output of the vector navigation system. Landmark navigation does not interfere with the updating of the accumulator. There is an interesting symmetry in the use of landmarks and path integration. In the short term, vector navigation can be independent of landmarks, and landmark navigation needs no assistance from path integration. In the longer term, visual landmarks help keep path vector navigation calibrated, and the learning of visual landmarks is guided by path integration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants*
  • Bees*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cybernetics*
  • Locomotion*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Psychomotor Performance*