The ontogeny of foragwehaviour in desert ants, Cataglyphis bicolor


*Rüdiger Wehner, Institute of Zoology, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland. E-mail:


Abstract. 1. Individually foraging desert ants, Cataglyphis bicolor, exhibit short foraging lives (half lifetime, i.e. half-time of the exponential decay function: 4.5 days), in which they perform 3.7 ± 1.9 foraging runs per day.

2. During their short lifetime foraging period the ants increase the duration of their foraging round trips (up to 40.0 ± 24.6 min per run), the maximal distance of individual foraging runs (up to 28.2 ± 4.1 m), and their foraging success, i.e. the ratio of successful runs to the total number of runs (up to 0.70).

3. The parameter that increases most dramatically during a forager's lifetime is direction fidelity, i.e. the tendency to remain faithful to a particular foraging direction.

4. A model based on some simple behavioural rules is used to describe the experimental findings that within an isotropic food environment individual ants develop spatial foraging idiosyncrasies, and do so at a rate that increases with the food densities they encounter.

5. Finally, it is argued that in functional terms direction fidelity is related to the navigational benefits resulting from exploiting familiar (route-based) landmark information, and hence reduces round-trip time and by this physiological stress and predatory risk.