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Abstract

Bumblebees perform complex flight maneuvers around the barely visible entrance of their nest upon their first departures. During these flights bees learn visual information about the surroundings, possibly including its spatial layout. They rely on this information to return home. Depth information can be derived from the apparent motion of the scenery on the bees' retina. This motion is shaped by the animal's flight and orientation: Bees employ a saccadic flight and gaze strategy, where rapid turns of the head (saccades) alternate with flight segments of apparently constant gaze direction (intersaccades). When during intersaccades the gaze direction is kept relatively constant, the apparent motion contains information about the distance of the animal to environmental objects, and thus, in an egocentric reference frame. Alternatively, when the gaze direction rotates around a fixed point in space, the animal perceives the depth structure relative to this pivot point, i.e., in an allocentric reference frame. If the pivot point is at the nest-hole, the information is nest-centric. Here, we investigate in which reference frames bumblebees perceive depth information during their learning flights. By precisely tracking the head orientation, we found that half of the time, the head appears to pivot actively. However, only few of the corresponding pivot points are close to the nest entrance. Our results indicate that bumblebees perceive visual information in several reference frames when they learn about the surroundings of a behaviorally relevant location.

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