How to navigate in different environments and situations

lessons from ants

Cody A. Freas, Patrick Schultheiss*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

10 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Ants are a globally distributed insect family whose members have adapted to live in a wide range of different environments and ecological niches. Foraging ants everywhere face the recurring challenge of navigating to find food and to bring it back to the nest. More than a century of research has led to the identification of some key navigational strategies, such as compass navigation, path integration, and route following. Ants have been shown to rely on visual, olfactory, and idiothetic cues for navigational guidance. Here, we summarize recent behavioral work, focusing on how these cues are learned and stored as well as how different navigational cues are integrated, often between strategies and even across sensory modalities. Information can also be communicated between different navigational routines. In this way, a shared toolkit of fundamental navigational strategies can lead to substantial flexibility in behavioral outcomes. This allows individual ants to tune their behavioral repertoire to different tasks (e.g., foraging and homing), lifestyles (e.g., diurnal and nocturnal), or environments, depending on the availability and reliability of different guidance cues. We also review recent anatomical and physiological studies in ants and other insects that have started to reveal neural correlates for specific navigational strategies, and which may provide the beginnings of a truly mechanistic understanding of navigation behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number841
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAY
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • navigation
  • ants
  • path integration
  • sky compass
  • terrestrial panorama
  • landmarks
  • central complex
  • mushroom bodies

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