Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How ants find their way

18.10.2006
Scientists reveal how wood ants navigate by visual landmarks

Ever wondered how ants find their way straight to the uncovered food in your kitchen? Now scientists have discovered how the humble wood ant navigates over proportionally huge distances, using just very poor eyesight and confusing and changing natural landmarks. The research could have significant benefits in the development of autonomous robots and in furthering our understanding of basic animal learning processes.

Scientists at the University of Sussex, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have shown precisely how the ant's visual navigation strategy works. On a wood ant's first trip to a food site it follows a chemical trail left by earlier ants. This is a slow way of travelling as the ant needs to walk with its antennae to the ground. However, this initial route forms the basis of an efficient learning strategy. On the first trip ants store images of the route as they travel and on later trips to the food site will navigate using a combination of landmarks and memories of the whole landscape. The scientists found the ants even used different sets of landmark memories depending on whether they were on their way to food, or whether they were full and heading back to the nest. Ants store many memories and have mechanisms to activate the right ones.

The researchers refined their research on ant visual memory selection in lab experiments. Research leader, Professor Tom Collett from the University of Sussex's Centre for Neuroscience, explained: "To show that ants use visual memory to navigate we trained ants to find food 10cm from a cylinder. We then doubled the size of the cylinder and the ants searched for the food at 20cm away where the retinal size of the landmark was the same."

... more about:
»Landmark »Visual »cylinder »navigate

To analyse the ants' powers of recall an ambiguous situation was set up. Ants were trained to search for food between two cylinders of different sizes and then tested with the training cylinders replaced by two cylinders of the same size. Would ants know which cylinder is which? They were only able to search in the predicted place when a patterned background was introduced as a retrieval cue. Professor Collett said: "To know which cylinder was which ants needed the patterned background to be in a different position on the retina when they faced one or other cylinder. Accurate memory retrieval often relies on ants storing a large panorama."

A better understanding of ant navigation could help to develop autonomous robots. Professor Collett explained: "Insect behaviour is much more 'machine-like' than that of mammals, and ants are a lot less flexible in their use of navigational strategies. This stereotypy makes it easier to understand how their strategies operate and to design robots that navigate following similar principles."

The researchers are now planning further experiments that will reveal new levels of detail about insect visuo-motor behaviour and allow the construction of models of memory retrieval.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: "Cognitive systems research gives us the opportunity to learn more about the ways that animals, including humans, process information to learn, reason, make decisions and communicate. BBSRC is working with other Research Councils and funders to support new interdisciplinary research in this area."

Matt Goode | alfa
Further information:
http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

Further reports about: Landmark Visual cylinder navigate

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH

nachricht Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>