Insect Pathfinding

Since I live in an older apartment, not everything is in tip-top shape. This includes the Insect Screens. While eating lunch, my father notices that a Ladybird and a Wasp had somehow found their way through a hole in the Insect Screen and into the window space. Fortunately, the Insects could not get inside the apartment. However, there was an intriguing observation; while both of the Insects were trying to find their way out of the bug screen, the Wasp was far more active than the Ladybird. The Wasp would bounce around and fly in different directions, but the Ladybird would just stick to roaming back-and-forth along the top of the screen.

From our relatively giant perspective, it was almost like watching Flatlanders in Flatland. Obviously, due to the random statistics of roaming around (like a random-walk), the Wasp had a better strategy for getting out, and it did several minutes later. But another interesting thought came to mind while observing the Insects in the “open maze” - it looked as if the Wasp was remembering where it had been, while the Ladybird was simply repeating the same actions over and over, almost as if it had a very short-term memory. It has been several hours, and I am still not sure if the Ladybird has found its way out of the same hole. My dad thought of another possible explanation a few minutes ago - perhaps there was so much light being reflected everywhere from the window that the Ladybird could not distinguish which direction is was headed in.

Has anyone else observed a similar pattern in Insect pathfinding/problem solving?


For an insect to have reasoning or memory to solve unpredictable situations, such as an artificial screen door, is not practical, anymore than it is practical for a school in Ohio to teach Tsunami safety procedure. Screen doors don’t exist in nature, and Tsunamis don’t exist in Ohio, so why should the state spend resources in preparation for something like that? Evolution is similar.

Consider that most insects are never given the tools to survive in the first place. Instead, they produce hundreds of offspring, so that chances are, a few will be lucky and survive to reproduce again.


I think you might enjoy having a look at this old but classic book:
“Forced Movements, Tropisms, and Animal Conduct” by
by Jacques Loeb. You can find it at this link:
It may be that the behavior you noticed is more related to the organisms’ natural responses to certain stimuli, e.g., movement towards or away from light, etc.

1 Like

Welcome to the Forum, @benjamin_davidson and @jjlisowski

1 Like

One of the time-honored traditions of Cub Scout campouts is little kids putting bugs in cages to see what happens. On one such occasion I witnessed, A mantis and a firefly were placed together in a cylindrical wire container. The mantis faced downward on one side of the cage, and the firefly was on the bottom. After wandering around for a while, the firefly traveled up the side right in front of the mantis. When the mantis struck, it merely knocked the firefly down to the bottom before it immediately followed the exact same path. The same thing repeated two more times before the mantis successfully caught and ate the firefly.

Also, this thread reminded me of the Lévy flight foraging hypothesis. Not specifically related, but I wonder if there have been similar attempts to model insect foraging and problem-solving movements mathematically.


Most insects instinctively head up, and towards light. The ladybird is less prone to flight, so it sticks around a lighted window ‘hoping’ it can get out. The wasp is a strong flier, so it heads up, banging itself against the cieling, and again will be drawn to the light of the window. Insect brains are rudimentary organs (coupled with a short life span), and the ability to form memories is limited. I’ve seen moths live for several days with no head. They don’t move much, as they have no sensory organs, but they remain fully alive. See Moth Photographers Group – Lithophane grotei – 9915 ( for an example. It’s an interesting observation, though!


Whilst previous comments draw on Morgan’s Canon (as they should) which states

“In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted in terms of higher psychological processes if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development.”

I wouldnt want the take away to be that species like wasps dont have spatial memory. I would guess in this case a likely simple explaination for the wasps quick escape is the combination of its erratic, but persistent flying, simply meant the chances of it accidently escaping were quite high.

Whilst that is likely, there are many examples of wasps spatial memories at work especially in social wasps which return to the same hive, and of wasps such as digger wasps and mason wasps which return to the same prepared nests to deposit food/eggs as opposed to similar nests made by the same species in the immediate vicinity. Spatial memory seems very much in play there. may be a good intro.

Stepping away from insects to arachnids, jumping spiders which rely on their ability to “make choices” regarding prey demonstrate a much wider range of abilities along the lines of visual memory, risk assessment, trial and error learning etc. For that I would recommend looking into papers by F.Cross/P.Jackson/ XJ.Nelson etc especially relating to Portia species. Such as

Maybe fall down the rabbit hole at

Arthropods are great examples of critters to observe and ponder, its great to consider proximal and ultimate causes of behaviour, but definitely keep in mind that the simplest explanation, which involves no assumptions of cognitive workings is likely the best one.


Insects do sometimes perform surprising, adaptive behaviours. Is it taxon-related or just differences among individuals ?
Just one example in iNaturalist


Bit of an aside, but it bears pointing out that human behavior is technically animal behavior. And this seems to apply – a lot of what humans do really doesn’t involve our higher psychological processes.


Totally agree humans are especially prone to assuming human behaviour.

Odonates are one of the top predators when it comes to insect world. They are known for the motion camouflage, with such a neat pursuit that the prey will never realise its end has come!

1 Like

Welcome to the Forum, @amarbharathy :)

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.