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: Telling the time of day by color

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

Telling the time of day by color

Apr 17, 2015

Research by scientists at The University of Manchester has revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures time of day and on how the animals' physiology and behavior adjust accordingly. ...

Aphrodisiac for fish and frogs discovered

Apr 17, 2015

A supplement simply added to water has been shown to boost reproduction in nematodes (roundworms), molluscs, fish and frogs – and researchers believe it could work for humans too.

Evolution puts checks on virgin births

Apr 17, 2015

It seems unnatural that a species could survive without having sex. Yet over the ages, evolution has endowed females of certain species of amphibians, reptiles and fish with the ability to clone themselves, ...

Humans can't resist those puppy-dog eyes

Apr 16, 2015

When humans and their four-legged, furry best friends look into one another's eyes, there is biological evidence that their bond strengthens, researchers report.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.