Limits of vector calibration in the Australian desert ant, Melophorus bagoti

Cody A. Freas*, Ken Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Desert ants that forage solitarily continually update their position relative to the nest through path integration. This is accomplished by combining information from their celestial compass and pedometer. The path integration system can adapt when memories of previous inbound routes do not coincide with the outbound route, through vector calibration. Here, we test the speed and limit of vector calibration in the desert ant Melophorus bagoti by creating directional conflicts between the inbound and outbound routes (45°, 90°, 135°, 180°). The homeward vector appears to calibrate rapidly after training with shifts occurring after three foraging trips, yet the limit of the vector’s plasticity appears to be a maximum of 45°. At 45° conflicts, the vector calibrates the full 45°, suggesting dominance of the previous inbound memories over the outbound cues of the current trip. Yet at larger directional conflicts, vector shifts after training diminish, with foragers in the 90° and 135° conditions showing smaller intermediate shifts between the inbound memories and the current outbound vector. When the conflict is at its maximum (180°), foragers show no calibration, suggesting the outbound vector is dominant. Panorama exposure during training appears to aid foragers orienting to the true nest, but this also appears limited to about a 45° shift and does not improve with training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141–152
Number of pages12
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number1
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • ants
  • memory
  • path integration
  • vector calibration
  • vector navigation

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