How do insects find their targets in a chaotic world?

The study records the flies seemingly random movements.


Insects are both beneficial and disadvantageous to humans. They use a well-honed sense of smell to transmit diseases, destroy crops, and pollinate flowers.

These tasks are complicated as natural odor environments vary quickly in nature. Then, how do insects discover their targets in a world of ever-changing signals?

The lab of Yale‘s Thierry Emonet finds out the answer.

Scientists exposed the flies in the darkened area to smoke from a burning stick. The lab of Thierry Emonet mimicked the natural world of complex, fluctuating odor signals, allowing them to record not only the flies seemingly random movements but also the odor signal a fly perceives during navigation.

They found that flies navigate in a more deterministic way when the airflow is stable, and odor release is relatively constant. The flies use a more probabilistic strategy to control their speed and orientation while facing a more complicated signal.

Emonet said, “Understanding how nature has developed strategies to navigate changing signals has technological benefits as well: it could help developers of artificial intelligence design robots to navigate environments inaccessible to humans, such as finding hidden explosives.”

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