The twilight zone: Ambient light levels trigger activity in primitive ants

Ajay Narendra*, Samuel F. Reid, Jan M. Hemmi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Many animals become active during twilight, a narrow time window where the properties of the visual environment are dramatically different from both day and night. Despite the fact that many animals including mammals, reptiles, birds and insects become active in this specific temporal niche, we do not know what cues trigger this activity. To identify the onset of specific temporal niches, animals could anticipate the timing of regular events or directly measure environmental variables. We show that the Australian bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis, starts foraging only during evening twilight throughout the year. The onset occurs neither at a specific temperature nor at a specific time relative to sunset, but at a specific ambient light intensity. Foraging onset occurs later when light intensities at sunset are brighter than normal or earlier when light intensities at sunset are darker than normal. By modifying ambient light intensity experimentally, we provide clear evidence that ants indeed measure light levels and do not rely on an internal rhythm to begin foraging. We suggest that the reason for restricting the foraging onset to twilight and measuring light intensity to trigger activity is to optimize the trade-off between predation risk and ease of navigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1531-1538
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1687
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Foraging onset
  • Light intensity
  • Myrmecia
  • Navigation
  • Temporal niche
  • Twilight


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