Not using the obvious: Desert ants, Melophorus bagoti, learn local vectors but not beacons in an arena

E. L G Legge, Marcia L. Spetch, Ken Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Many ant species travel large distances to find food, sometimes covering distances that are up to one million times their body length. Even when these foraging trips follow convoluted paths, the ants usually find their way back to their nest with precision (Wehner et al. in J Exp Biol 199:129-140, 1996). Ants have been shown to use both compass cues in the sky (pattern of polarised light) and landmarks on Earth to return to their nest. We present two experiments conducted on a solitary foraging ant: Melophorus bagoti in their natural habitat in the central Australian desert. Ants were trained and tested in situ. We tested foragers' ability to exit a circular arena which provided an undifferentiated panorama. Artificial visual landmarks were located near a small exit. On tests in which path integration information was not available, foragers did not use artificial landmarks as beacons. Instead, they oriented in the learned exit direction, whether or not it pointed to the nest. We suggest that M. bagoti foragers learned a context-specific local vector when cued by the context of the circular arena. Our findings present the first evidence that M. bagoti foragers learn context-specific compass directions to chart their initial path home.

LanguageEnglish
Pages849-860
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Cognition
Volume13
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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Ants
ant
deserts
Formicidae
desert
nest
nests
foraging
polarized light
Aptitude
travel
body length
Cues
Ecosystem
Melophorus bagoti
Light
Food
food
habitat
habitats

Cite this

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Not using the obvious : Desert ants, Melophorus bagoti, learn local vectors but not beacons in an arena. / Legge, E. L G; Spetch, Marcia L.; Cheng, Ken.

In: Animal Cognition, Vol. 13, No. 6, 2010, p. 849-860.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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