The ability to move safely between obstacles is critical for animals that fly rapidly through cluttered environments but surprisingly little is known about how they achieve this. Do they reactively avoid obstacles or do they instead fly towards the gaps between them? If they aim towards gaps, what information do they use to detect and fly through them? Here, we aim to answer these questions by presenting orchid bees with different apertures. When negotiating gaps, orchid bees locate and fly close to the point that gives them greatest clearance from the edges. The cue that they use to pinpoint this spot is the brightness gradient formed across the aperture. Furthermore, we find that orchid bees also rely on brightness cues to locate gaps that are sufficiently large to negotiate safely. The advantage of using brightness for locating and negotiating gaps in a cluttered environment is that it provides information about the safest path through obstacles, at least in a forest environment. This brightness-based guidance strategy for gap detection and negotiation represents a fast, computationally simple and efficient mechanism to identify the clearest path through a forest and is, therefore, likely to represent a more general mechanism used by other animals.
- Received December 14, 2015.
- Accepted March 3, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.