Ocellar structure is driven by the mode of locomotion and activity time in Myrmecia ants

Ajay Narendra*, Willi A. Ribi

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Insects have exquisitely adapted their compound eyes to suit the ambient light intensity in the different temporal niches they occupy. In addition to the compound eye, most flying insects have simple eyes known as ocelli, which assist in flight stabilisation, horizon detection and orientation. Among ants, typically the flying alates have ocelli while the pedestrian workers lack this structure. The Australian ant genus Myrmecia is one of the few ant genera in which both workers and alates have three ocellar lenses. Here, we studied the variation in the ocellar structure in four sympatric species of Myrmecia that are active at different times of the day. In addition, we took advantage of the walking and flying modes of locomotion in workers and males, respectively, to ask whether the type of movement influences the ocellar structure. We found that ants active in dim light had larger ocellar lenses and wider rhabdoms compared with those in brightlight conditions. In the ocellar rhabdoms of workers active in dim-light habitats, typically each retinula cell contributed microvilli in more than one direction, probably destroying polarisation sensitivity. The organisation of the ocellar retina in the day-active workers and the males suggests that in these animals some cells are sensitive to the pattern of polarised skylight. We found that the night-flying males had a tapetum that reflects light back to the rhabdom, increasing their optical sensitivity. We discuss the possible functions of ocelli to suit the different modes of locomotion and the discrete temporal niches that animals occupy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4383-4390
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number23
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


    • ocelli
    • diurnal ants
    • nocturnal ants
    • winged male
    • pedestrian ants
    • tapetum
    • alates


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