With their highly sensitive visual systems, the arthropods have evolved a remarkable capacity to orient and navigate at night. Whereas some navigate under the open sky, and take full advantage of the celestial cues available there, others navigate in more difficult conditions, such as through the dense understory of a tropical rainforest. Four major classes of orientation are performed by arthropods at night, some of which involve true navigation (i.e. travel to a distant goal that lies beyond the range of direct sensory contact): (1) simple straight-line orientation, typically for escape purposes; (2) nightly short-distance movements relative to a shoreline, typically in the context of feeding; (3) long-distance nocturnal migration at high altitude in the quest to locate favorable feeding or breeding sites, and (4) nocturnal excursions to and from a fixed nest or food site (i.e. homing), a task that in most species involves path integration and/or the learning and recollection of visual landmarks. These four classes of orientation – and their visual basis – are reviewed here, with special emphasis given to the best-understood animal systems that are representative of each.
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