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Photo: Tiger beetle's chase highlights mechanical law
Date:4/15/2014

ITHACA, N.Y. If an insect drew a line as it chased its next meal, the resulting pattern would be a tangled mess. But there's method to that mess, says Jane Wang, a Cornell University professor of mechanical engineering and physics, who tries to find simple physical explanations for complex, hardwired animal behaviors.

Photo: https://cornell.box.com/tbeetle

It turns out the tiger beetle, known for its speed and agility, does an optimal reorientation dance as it chases its prey at blinding speeds. Publishing online April 9 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Wang and colleagues used high-speed cameras and statistical analysis to reveal a proportional control law in which the angular position of prey, relative to the beetle's body axis, drives the beetle's angular velocity with a delay of 28 milliseconds. That's about a half-stride in beetle terms.

These observations led Wang to propose a physical interpretation of the behavior: that to turn toward its prey, the beetle, on average, exerts a sideways force proportional to the prey's angular position, measured a half-stride earlier.

"The idea is to find laws that animals use to intercept their prey," Wang said. "We do it, too [interception] when trying to catch a baseball, or when chasing someone. But since insects have a smaller number of neurons, their behaviors are more likely hardwired, which makes it possible for us to find and understand the rules they follow."

Why the tiger beetle? It's a nice model system, Wang said, which she learned after attending a talk several years ago by Cornell entomology professor Cole Gilbert, who studies neural mechanisms of behavior in arthropods and is a paper co-author. Andreas Haselsteiner, the paper's first author, was a visiting student in Wang's lab and designed the experiments.

For the experiments, a "dummy prey" a black bead was dangled
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Contact: Syl Kacapyr
vpk6@cornell.edu
607-255-7701
Cornell University
Source:Eurekalert

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