Dragonflies use underdamped pursuit to chase conspecifics.
Pursuit is a common behavior exhibited by animals chasing prey, competitors and potential mates. Because of their speed and maneuverability, dragonflies are frequently studied as a model system for biological pursuit. Most quantitative studies have focused on prey pursuits in captive environments. To determine whether a different pursuit strategy is used when chasing conspecifics of nearly equal speed and agility, we recorded 3D flight trajectories from nine territorial chases between male Erythemis simplicicollis dragonflies in natural field conditions. During chases, dragonflies used an interception strategy with an unusually high-magnitude gain (k=-10.03 s-1 horizontal; -8.86 s-1 vertical) and short time delay (τ=50 ms). The product kτ determines how aggressively a pursuer corrects course to achieve interception. Previous studies of prey pursuit have found kτ values close to -1/e (-0.37), the time-optimal value for achieving pursuit without overshooting. However, we found that dragonflies chasing conspecifics use more negative kτ (-0.50 horizontal; -0.44 vertical), resulting in pursuits with a high degree of overshooting (i.e. moving past the target and alternating position from side to side). We confirmed via simulation that the observed gain and delay produce overshooting. We propose that overshooting is an adaptive feature of conspecific chases that can be achieved with only slight modification of the strategy used for intercepting prey. Overshooting might help avoid potentially damaging collisions while exhibiting the pursuing animal's flight performance and competitive ability. Repeated close approaches might also evoke evasive responses from the other dragonfly, effectively herding the competitor out of the territory.
Lohmann, AC; Corcoran, AJ; Hedrick, TL
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