Individually foraging ants are known to return to their nest by using path-integration and recording visual information present in the environment. The interaction between the path integrator and the information provided by the visual cues in an Australian desert ant are reported here. Ants were trained to travel in a 1-m wide and 20-m long corridor of cylinders. Homeward paths of trained ants were recorded in the presence and absence of vector information and route cues in both the familiar training field and in an unfamiliar test field. Homing ants used route cue information only in a familiar context. The route cues were not essential but served to reduce the deviation of the homing trajectory from the nest-feeder line. When displaced locally, homebound ants initially oriented towards the nest using distant cues and then headed in a direction intermediate between that dictated by the path integrator and the distant cues. If in the course of travel ants encountered the familiar path they adhered to it. If not, they travelled on average half the distance of the outbound journey and initiated a search directed towards the nest. Following the search, ants headed in a direction intermediate between that dictated by the route cues and the distant cues. In an unfamiliar context neither vector nor route cue information could steer a homing ant towards the nest. The dominance of distant cues, the importance of familiar context and the interaction between different navigation strategies are discussed here.
Bibliographical noteAn erratum of this article exists and can be found in the Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 210, issue 12, p. 2212. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.02791.
- distant cues
- Melophorus bagoti
- path integrator
- route cues