Collective Vortex Behaviors: Diversity, Proximate, and Ultimate Causes of Circular Animal Group Movements

Johann Delcourt, Nikolai Bode, Mathieu Denoel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
402 Downloads (Pure)


Ant mill, caterpillar circle, bat doughnut, amphibian vortex, duck swirl, and fish torus are different names or rotating circular animal formations, where individuals turn around a common center. These “collective vortex behaviors” occur at different group sizes from pairs to several million individuals and
have been reported in a large number of organisms, from bacteria to vertebrates, including humans. However, to date, no comprehensive review and synthesis of the literature on vortex behaviors has been conducted. Here, we review the state of the art of the proximate and ultimate causes of vortex behaviors. The ubiquity of this behavioral phenomenon could suggest common causes or fundamental underlying principles across contexts. However, we find that a variety of proximate mechanisms give rise to vortex behaviors. We highlight the potential benefits of collective vortex behaviors to individuals involved in them. For example, in some species, vortices increase feeding efficiency and could give protection against predators. It has also been argued that vortices could improve collective decision-making and information
transfer. We highlight gaps in our understandding of these ubiquitous behavioral phenomena and discuss future directions for research in vortex studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalQuarterly Review of Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • collective behavior
  • collective motion
  • group behavior
  • milling behavior
  • self-organisation
  • torus


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