Jochen Zeil

Group membership

Honorary Group Leader, Zeil Group - Ecological neuroscience

I did my PhD on Sexual Dimorphism in the Visual System of Flies at the University of Sussex, England under the supervision of Mike Land and of Deszö Varjú, Chair of Biological Cybernetics, University of Tübingen, Germany, earning the degree in 1981. I then spent two years of postdoctoral time at the University of Tübingen, Germany, studying Swarming in Insects, followed by a Visiting Lectureship at the University of New South Wales, Australia, working with David & Renate Sandeman on Tactile Localization in Crayfish and with Hans-Ortwin & Gerbera Nalbach on Visual System Organization in Crabs. I returned to the Department of Biological Cybernetics, University of Tübingen, Germany in 1985 to a teaching and research position, where I became interested in Learning Flights and Homing in Wasps. Since Germany was unfortunate not to be able to accommodate me as an academic, I went to Kuwait University in 1993 as Associate Professor to teach. There I studied Why Oil Lakes Attract Water-seeking Animals and Homing in Fiddler Crabs. In 1995 I joined the Visual Sciences Group at ANU as a Centre for Visual Science Research Fellow and earned my present position in a Strategic Development Bid for Visual Ecology, which I co-authored with Johannes Zanker and Mandyam Srinivasan.

Research interests

I am a Neuroethologist - studying the neural basis of natural animal behaviour –with particular interest in animal navigation, homing and the ecology of information processing. These topics are part of a major world-wide research effort, linking research in Behavioural Ecology, Neuroethology, Sensory Physiology, Evolutionary Biology, Machine Vision and Robotics. The design and evolution of visual systems, including neural computation strategies, can only be understood in the natural context in which animals operate. We still know too little about the image processing problems that animals face under natural and biologically relevant conditions, in order to explain the staggering diversity of visual systems on earth. At the same time, machine vision and robotics research is increasingly confronted with vision under real-life conditions. There is thus a common interest in understanding what makes biological vision so successful, flexible and robust.

Current grants

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Selected publications


  • Jayatilaka P, Raderschall CA, Narendra A, Zeil J (2014) Individual foraging patterns of the jack jumper antMyrmecia croslandi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 19: 75-83.
  • Alkaladi A, Zeil J (2014) The Functional Anatomy of the Fiddler Crab Compound Eye (Uca vomeris: Ocypodidae, Brachyura, Decapoda). Journal of Comparative Neurology 522: 1264–1283.
  • Zeil J, Narendra A, Stürzl W (2014) Looking and Homing: How displaced ants decide where to go. Philosophical Transactions B 20130034. 
  • Zeil J, Hemmi JM (2014) Path Integration, Vision and Decision-making in Fiddler Crabs. In: Derby CD, Thiel M (eds) Crustacean Nervous Systems and their Control of Behavior. Vol 3 of The Natural History of Crustaceans (ten-volume series, editor-in-chief, M. Thiel). Oxford Univ. Press, New York. (in press).
  • Zeil J, Ribi W, Narendra A (2014) Polarisation vision in ants, bees and wasps. In: Polarized Light and Polarization Vision in Animal Sciences. Gábor Horváth (Editor). Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, New York (in press).


  • Alkaladi A, How M, Zeil J (2013) Systematic variations in microvilli banding patterns along fiddler crab rhabdoms. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 199: 99-113.
  • Violett S, Zeil J (2013) Feed-forward and visual feed-back control of head roll orientation in wasps (Polistes humilis, Vespidae, Hymenoptera). Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 1280-1291.
  • Narendra A, Gourmaud S, Zeil J (2013) Mapping the navigational knowledge of individually foraging ants, Myrmecia croslandiProceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280: 20130683.
  • Reid SF, Narendra A, Taylor RW, Zeil J (2013) Foraging ecology of the night-active bull ant Myrmecia pyriformisAustralian Journal of Zoology 61: 170-177.


  • Zeil J (2012) Visual Homing – An Insect Perspective. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 22:285–293.


  • Narendra A, Reid SF, Greiner B, Peters RA, Hemmi JM, Ribi W, Zeil J (2011) Caste-specific visual adaptations to distinct daily activity schedules in Australian Myrmecia ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 278: 1141-1149.
  • Schwarz S, Narendra A, Zeil J (2011) The properties of the visual system in the Australian desert antMelophorus bagoti. Arthropod Structure & Development 40: 128-134.
  • Reid SF, Narendra A, Hemmi JM, Zeil J (2011) Polarised skylight and the landmark panorama provide night active bull ants with compass information during route following. Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 363-370
  • Smolka J, Zeil J, Hemmi JM (2011) Natural visual cues eliciting predator avoidance in fiddler crabs.Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 278: 3584-3592.
  • Jayatilaka P, Narendra A, Reid SF, Cooper P, Zeil J (2011) Different effects of temperature on the foraging activity schedules in sympatric Myrmecia ants. Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 2730-2738
  • Ribi W, Warrant E, Zeil J (2011) The organization of honeybee ocelli: Regional specializations and rhabdom arrangements. Arthropod Structure & Development 40: 509-520.

All publications

  • Lectures on Sensory Systems, Communication & Navigation in Invertebrate Zoology (ANU - BIOL2113)
  • Sensory Physiology and Animal Behaviour (ANU - BIOL3103)
  • Marine Physiology (in Marine Biology ANU - BIOL2112)
  • Ecological Neuroscience (in Behavioural Neuroscience ANU - PSY3116)
  • Evolution of Vision (in Brain, Behaviour and Evolution (BBE01), Macquarie University)
  • The compound eyes of fiddler crabs: a tutorial
  • IBRO-ANS Advanced Neuroscience School on Neuroethology, Australia, 2009
  • Vision and the Organization of Behaviour, Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience, Munich, Germany, 2009
  • ACEVS-CVS Summer School on Animal Navigation (until 2008)
  • IBRO Advanced School of Neuroscience, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2007.