Information content of visual scenes influences systematic search of desert ants

Patrick Schultheiss*, Antoine Wystrach, Eric L G Legge, Ken Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    34 Citations (Scopus)


    Many animals - including insects - navigate visually through their environment. Solitary foraging desert ants are known to acquire visual information from the surrounding panorama and use it to navigate along habitual routes or to pinpoint a goal such as the nest. Returning foragers that fail to find the nest entrance engage in searching behaviour, during which they continue to use vision. The characteristics of searching behaviour have typically been investigated in unfamiliar environments. Here we investigated in detail the nest-searching behaviour of Melophorus bagoti foragers within the familiar visual environment of their nest. First, by relating search behaviour to the information content of panoramic (360'deg) images, we found that searches were more accurate in visually cluttered environments. Second, as observed in unfamiliar visual surrounds, searches were dynamic and gradually expanded with time, showing that nest pinpointing is not rigidly controlled by vision. Third, contrary to searches displayed in unfamiliar environments, searches observed here could be modelled as a single exponential search strategy, which is similar to a Brownian walk, and there was no evidence of a Lévy walk. Overall, our results revealed that searching behaviour is remarkably flexible and varies according to the relevance of information provided by the surrounding visual scenery.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)742-749
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


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