Control of self-motion in dynamic fluids: fish do it differently from bees

Christine Scholtyssek, Marie Dacke, Ronald Kröger, Emily Baird


To detect and avoid collisions, animals need to perceive and control the distance and the speed with which they are moving relative to obstacles. This is especially challenging for swimming and flying animals that must control movement in a dynamic fluid without reference from physical contact to the ground. Flying animals primarily rely on optic flow to control flight speed and distance to obstacles. Here, we investigate whether swimming animals use similar strategies for self-motion control to flying animals by directly comparing the trajectories of zebrafish (Danio rerio) and bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) moving through the same experimental tunnel. While moving through the tunnel, black and white patterns produced (i) strong horizontal optic flow cues on both walls, (ii) weak horizontal optic flow cues on both walls and (iii) strong optic flow cues on one wall and weak optic flow cues on the other. We find that the mean speed of zebrafish does not depend on the amount of optic flow perceived from the walls. We further show that zebrafish, unlike bumblebees, move closer to the wall that provides the strongest visual feedback. This unexpected preference for strong optic flow cues may reflect an adaptation for self-motion control in water or in environments where visibility is limited.

  • Received April 1, 2014.
  • Accepted May 6, 2014.
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