What is the fastest way to locate a randomly hidden object? Animals searching for food may instinctively be following the best strategy.
In an upcoming paper to be published in Physical Review Letters, the authors -- O. Benichou et al. -- model a search as alternating between two phases - a slow, systematic search phase during which a forager scans an area, and a fast phase in which the searcher darts to another area before beginning another slow search phase.
To minimize the time needed to find the object, the researchers calculate that the average time spent in "motion" phases should vary as either the 3/5 or 2/3 power of the average duration of the "search" phases. Comparing their model with experimental data from 18 different foraging species, including fish, birds, and lizards, the authors find that the animals actually do follow this optimal strategy.
The authors believe the model could also apply to many other situations, including human searching behaviors. So you might want keep it in mind next time you lose your keys.
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