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Published August 7, 2017 | public
Journal Article Open

Idiothetic Path Integration in the Fruit Fly Drosophila melanogaster


After discovering a small drop of food, hungry flies exhibit a peculiar behavior in which they repeatedly stray from, but then return to, the newly discovered resource. To study this behavior in more detail, we tracked hungry Drosophila as they explored a large arena, focusing on the question of how flies remain near the food. To determine whether flies use external stimuli, we individually eliminated visual, olfactory, and pheromonal cues. In all cases, flies still exhibited a centralized search behavior, suggesting that none of these cues are absolutely required for navigation back to the food. To simultaneously eliminate visual and olfactory cues associated with the position of the food, we constructed an apparatus in which the food could be rapidly translated from the center of the arena. Flies continued to search around the original location, even after the food was moved to a new position. A random search model based on measured locomotor statistics could not reproduce the centered nature of the animal's trajectory. We conclude that this behavior is best explained by a form of path integration in which the flies use idiothetic cues to search near the location of the food. We argue that the use of path integration to perform a centered local search is not a specialization of Drosophila but rather represents an ancient behavioral mode that is homologous to the more elaborate foraging strategies of central place foragers such as ants.

Additional Information

© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. Received 18 April 2017, Revised 26 May 2017, Accepted 9 June 2017, Available online 20 July 2017. Published: July 20, 2017. We wish to thank Christie Huang for help with conducting these experiments, and Steve Safarik for developing our tracking software. Joel Levine kindly provided us with flies. John Tuthill, Rachel Wilson, Pavan Ramdya, and Paul Graham provided valuable feedback on this manuscript. This work was supported by the Human Frontiers of Science Program (grant RGP0022/2012) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the NIH (award U01NS090514). Author Contributions: Conceptualization, I.S.K. and M.H.D.; Methodology, I.S.K. and M.H.D.; Investigation, I.S.K.; Formal Analysis, I.S.K.; Writing, I.S.K. and M.H.D.; Funding Acquisition, M.H.D.; Supervision, M.H.D.

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August 21, 2023
August 21, 2023