Odometry and insect navigation

J Exp Biol. 2011 May 15;214(Pt 10):1629-41. doi: 10.1242/jeb.038570.


Animals have needed to find their way about almost since a free-living life style evolved. Particularly, if an animal has a home--shelter or nesting site--true navigation becomes necessary to shuttle between this home and areas of other activities, such as feeding. As old as navigation is in the animal kingdom, as diverse are its mechanisms and implementations, depending on an organism's ecology and its endowment with sensors and actuators. The use of landmarks for piloting or the use of trail pheromones for route following have been examined in great detail and in a variety of animal species. The same is true for senses of direction--the compasses for navigation--and the construction of vectors for navigation from compass and distance cues. The measurement of distance itself--odometry--has received much less attention. The present review addresses some recent progress in the understanding of odometers in invertebrates, after outlining general principles of navigation to put odometry in its proper context. Finally, a number of refinements that increase navigation accuracy and safety are addressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Distance Perception / physiology*
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Species Specificity