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Keywords:

  • desert ant;
  • compass;
  • direction;
  • navigation;
  • skyline;
  • visual matching

Abstract

Ants are known to use the terrestrial visual panorama in navigation. Recent evidence has accumulated for the use of the currently perceived visual panorama to determine a direction to head in. The pattern of the height of the terrestrial surround, the skyline, is one key cue for the Central Australian red honey ant Melophorus bagoti in determining a direction of travel. But ants might also possess some mechanism to match the skyline heights encountered during training, which functions to steer away from regions whose skyline is too high and towards regions whose skyline is too low. We made an initial test of this hypothesis by training ants to visit a feeder centred between two experimentally constructed walls of black cloth. Trained ants were then tested for their initial homing direction with the walls retaining their heights as encountered in training (controls), with one of the walls lowered or raised in height, or with one wall lowered and the opposite wall raised. Wall-height manipulations deflected the initial headings of ants towards the lower wall, with combined wall lowering and wall raising changing the initial headings by ~30° when compared with controls. The results suggest that the ants combined the dictates of the panorama in determining the best direction of travel (a heading towards the nest) with some attractor mechanism that functions to establish the skyline heights of training conditions (a heading towards the lower wall).