How honeybees make grazing landings on flat surfaces

M.V. Srinivasan1 , S.W. Zhang1 , J.S. Chahl1, E. Barth2, and S. Venkatesh3

1 Centre for Visual Science, Research School of Biological Sciences Australian National University P.O. Box 475, Canberra, A.C.T. 2601, Australia
2 Institute for Signal Processing Medical University of Luebeck Ratzeburger Allee 160, 23538 Luebeck, Germany
3 Department of Computer Science, School of Computing Curtin University GPO Box U 1987, Perth, WA 6001, Australia


Freely flying bees were filmed as they landed on a flat, horizontal surface, to investigate the underlying visuomotor control strategies. The results reveal that (i) landing bees approach the surface at a relatively shallow descent angle; (ii) they tend to hold the angular velocity of the image of the surface constant as they approach it, and (iii) the instantaneous speed of descent is proportional to the instantaneous forward speed. These characteristics reflect a surprisingly simple and effective strategy for achieving a smooth landing, by which the forward and descent speeds are automatically reduced as the surface is approached and are both close to zero at touchdown. No explicit knowledge of flight speed or height above the ground is necessary. A model of the control scheme is developed and its predictions are verified. It is also shown that, during landing, the bee decelerates continuously and in such a way as to keep the projected time to touchdown constant as the surface is approached. The feasibility of this landing strategy is demonstrated by implementation in a robotic gantry equipped with vision.
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The paper is available online at or as part of a special issue of Biological Cybernetics on Navigation in biological and artificial systems.