Learning and time-dependent cue choice in the desert ant, Melophorus bagoti

Cody A. Freas*, Ken Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Foraging ants are known to use multiple sources of information to return to the nest. These cue sets are employed by independent navigational systems including path integration in the case of celestial cues and vision-based learning in the case of terrestrial landmarks and the panorama. When cue sets are presented in conflict, the Australian desert ant species, Melophorus bagoti, will choose a compromise heading between the directions dictated by the cues or, when navigating on well-known routes, foragers choose the direction indicated by the terrestrial cues of the panorama against the dictates of celestial cues. Here, we explore the roles of learning terrestrial cues and delays since cue exposure in these navigational decisions by testing restricted foragers with differing levels of terrestrial cue experience with the maximum (180°) cue conflict. Restricted foragers appear unable to extrapolate landmark information from the nest to a displacement site 8 m away. Given only one homeward experience, foragers can successfully orient using terrestrial cues, but this experience is not sufficient to override a conflicting vector. Terrestrial cue strength increases with multiple experiences and eventually overrides the celestial cues. This appears to be a dynamic choice as foragers discount the reliability of the terrestrial cues over time, reverting back to preferring the celestial vector when the forager has an immediate vector, but the forager's last exposure to the terrestrial cues was 24 hr in the past. Foragers may be employing navigational decision making that can be predicted by the temporal weighting rule.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-515
Number of pages13
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • celestial compass
  • desert ants
  • learning
  • navigation
  • panorama
  • temporal weighting rule


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