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J Neurosci Methods. 2000 Aug 15;101(1):59-67.

Tracking of flying insects using pan-tilt cameras.

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Zoologisches Institut, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057, Zurich, Switzerland.


Potent and affordable video and computer systems for automatic data acquisition are becoming increasingly important in behavioural neuroscience. It has remained challenging, however, to acquire data from small and fast-moving animals, such as insects in flight, due to the limited spatial and temporal resolution of the systems currently available. Our research on free-flying insects motivated the development of new methods in the context of two different experimental settings. First, the position and precise body axis direction of honey bees approaching a food source were automatically measured. Second, the flight trajectories of a phonotactic parasitoid fly homing in on its cricket host were recorded in 3D. We used pan-tilt cameras, i.e. cameras with moveable optics, to follow the animal's path with a close up image. Novel methods were developed for image acquisition and position measurement using pan-tilt cameras, as well as calibration and data evaluation in 3D world coordinates. The innovations of this system comprise: (1) Acquisition of images in high spatial detail over large observation areas. (2) Image acquisition at a field rate of 50 Hz PAL. (3) Free positioning of the cameras for 3D acquisition. (4) Computation of the flight path in 3D world coordinates. We illustrate the capabilities of the system with data obtained from a calibration object as well as from the behaviour of unrestricted, free-flying flies and bees. Potential applications in behavioural neuroscience and the psychophysics of sensory perception are briefly discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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