Study shows Australian jack jumper ants navigate using landmarks

Jun 26, 2013 by Bob Yirka report

( —A trio of researchers from The Australian National University has found that solitary foraging jack jumper ants take mental snapshots of the terrain as they move around. This allows the ants, the team notes in their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, to find their way home using landmark identification.

Ants are known to use various methods to find their way home after foraging, most notably path integration. This is where ants record distance traveled and in what direction as they march around and then use that information to help them find their way home. In this new effort, the researchers found that when foraging relatively close to home, jack jumper ants also note landmarks as they travel that they can use to create a mental map that leads back to their nest.

In a prior study carried out by researchers at Australia's Vision Centre, it was found that bull ants had more difficulty finding their way home in the dark than in the light of day. This suggested they use landmarks as . Building on these findings, the researchers in this new study collected 50 jack jumper ants and moved them various distances from the nest, then watched (using differential GPS) to see if they could find their way home. The group found that at distances of 10 meters or less, the ants were able to look around them then head straight for home. In contrast, when the researchers carried the ants 100 meters from their nest, the ants were confused and attempted to use path integration to orient themselves.

These findings suggested the ants were using landmarks to find their way home. To add credence to their theory, the team used cameras to study the terrain in which the ants had been released; these cameras allowed the researchers to look around from the vantage point of the ants. Doing so allowed them to very clearly see that various landmarks provided the ants sufficient information to guide their trip home. As the distance from the nest was increased, however, the team found it more and more difficult to use landmark information to create a return map.

Based on their observations, the researchers conclude that the ants do indeed use as a form of navigational aid. They note also that this simple ability far outstrips the abilities of current robots, thus jack jumper ants may serve as a model for robot builders looking to improve navigational skills in their creations.

Explore further: Ants pay high price for night life

More information: Mapping the navigational knowledge of individually foraging ants, Myrmecia croslandi, Published 26 June 2013 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0683

Ants are efficient navigators, guided by path integration and visual landmarks. Path integration is the primary strategy in landmark-poor habitats, but landmarks are readily used when available. The landmark panorama provides reliable information about heading direction, routes and specific location. Visual memories for guidance are often acquired along routes or near to significant places. Over what area can such locally acquired memories provide information for reaching a place? This question is unusually approachable in the solitary foraging Australian jack jumper ant, since individual foragers typically travel to one or two nest-specific foraging trees. We find that within 10 m from the nest, ants both with and without home vector information available from path integration return directly to the nest from all compass directions, after briefly scanning the panorama. By reconstructing panoramic views within the successful homing range, we show that in the open woodland habitat of these ants, snapshot memories acquired close to the nest provide sufficient navigational information to determine nest-directed heading direction over a surprisingly large area, including areas that animals may have not visited previously.

Related Stories

Sugar ants 'know when they're lost'

Nov 13, 2012

(—Australian sugar ants know their surroundings so well that putting them in a different place can immediately trigger a 'lost' reaction, new research shows.

Ants pay high price for night life

May 28, 2013

( —Despite being night creatures, Australian bull ants have trouble finding their way home in the dark. Scientists at Australia's Vision Centre (VC) have found that bull ants that travel at night ...

Desert ants smell their way home

Feb 27, 2009

Humans lost in the desert are well known for going around in circles, prompting scientists to ask how desert creatures find their way around without landmarks for guidance. Now research published in BioMed ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

15 hours ago

( —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

( —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

( —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

( —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...