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

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

Im Focus: Bacteria harness the lotus effect to protect themselves

Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties

Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supercomputing helps researchers understand Earth's interior

23.05.2017 | Earth Sciences

Study identifies RNA molecule that shields breast cancer stem cells from immune system

23.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

23.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>