Minding the gap: learning and visual scanning behaviour in nocturnal bull ants

Muzahid Islam*, Sudhakar Deeti, J. Frances Kamhi, Ken Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)
    17 Downloads (Pure)


    Insects possess small brains but exhibit sophisticated behaviour, specifically their ability to learn to navigate within complex environments. To understand how they learn to navigate in a cluttered environment, we focused on learning and visual scanning behaviour in the Australian nocturnal bull ant, Myrmecia midas, which are exceptional visual navigators. We tested how individual ants learn to detour via a gap and how they cope with substantial spatial changes over trips. Homing M. midas ants encountered a barrier on their foraging route and had to find a 50 cm gap between symmetrical large black screens, at 1 m distance towards the nest direction from the centre of the releasing platform in both familiar (on-route) and semi-familiar (off-route) environments. Foragers were tested for up to 3 learning trips with the changed conditions in both environments. The results showed that on the familiar route, individual foragers learned the gap quickly compared with when they were tested in the semi-familiar environment. When the route was less familiar, and the panorama was changed, foragers were less successful at finding the gap and performed more scans on their way home. Scene familiarity thus played a significant role in visual scanning behaviour. In both on-route and off-route environments, panoramic changes significantly affected learning, initial orientation and scanning behaviour. Nevertheless, over a few trips, success at gap finding increased, visual scans were reduced, the paths became straighter, and individuals took less time to reach the goal.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberjeb242245
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number14
    Early online date19 Jul 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

    Bibliographical note

    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.


    • Gap learning
    • Visual navigation
    • Success rate
    • Scene familiarity


    Dive into the research topics of 'Minding the gap: learning and visual scanning behaviour in nocturnal bull ants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this