Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have investigated another navigational skill of desert ants. These ants are already well-known for their remarkable visual orientation: they use a sun compass along with a step counter and visible landmarks to locate their nest after foraging for food.
After the research team from Jena recently discovered that these ants also use olfactory cues to pinpoint their nests, they conducted new experiments: they revealed that the animals can not only locate an odour source, but also use the distribution of different odours in the vicinity of their nests in a map-like manner. The scientists found that the ants need both their antennae for this odour-guided navigation: they smell the scenery in stereo. (Animal Behaviour, online first, doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.01.011)
The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis is an insect native to the inhospitable salt-pans of Tunisia. To pinpoint the nest - a tiny hole in the desert ground - after foraging for food, Cataglyphis combines several navigation systems: a sun compass, a path integrator (the ant literally counts its steps), and visual recognition of landmarks. Recently, Kathrin Steck, Bill Hansson and Markus Knaden, neuroethologists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, discovered that local odours also play an important role in the insect's orientation (Frontiers in Zoology, 2009, Vol. 6 No. 5): ants learn to associate a smell with their nest and distinguish this smell from others. But the researchers wanted to know if the insects are also able to recognize odour patterns that emerge, when several odour sources are located at different positions around the nest. And if so, they asked, do ants need both their antennae like stereo receivers just as we employ two eyes and two ears for spatial perception?
"We conducted two key experiments," says Kathrin Steck, PhD student at the institute. "First we marked four odour sources surrounding the nest entrance with the substances methyl salicylate, decanal, nonanal, and indole, and got the ants trained on them. If these four odour points were shifted away from the nest in the original arrangement, the ants repeatedly headed for the odours, even though the nest wasn't there anymore. If we rearranged the odour sources relative to each other, the ants were completely confused." Therefore the researchers assumed that ants do not "think" one-dimensionally - i.e. they do not associate the nest with only one smell - but multi-dimensionally, i.e., they relate an odour landscape to their nest. The odour landscape comprising the four substances was monitored with the help of a special measuring technique: the scientists used a specific photoionisation detector to determine the distribution of the odour substances in space and time.
Spatial perception can easily be acquired if two separate sensory organs are available, such as two eyes for visual orientation. In the case of the ants, this would be their two antennae. "With this assumption, the second key experiment seemed obvious: We tested ants that only had one antenna," Markus Knaden, the leader of the study, explains. In fact, ants with only one sensory device were unable to make use of the odour landscape for navigation.
Stereo smelling in animals is not new - rats and humans are thought to have this ability as well. This new study shows that ants smell in stereo, but not only that: "In our experiments we demonstrated that ants successfully use stereo smelling for navigation in the desert," says Bill Hansson, director at the institute. [JWK, AO]
Dipl. Biol. Kathrin Steck; MPI for Chemical Ecology, Tel.: 03641 / 57-1466, email@example.comPicture Material:
Dr. Jan-Wolfhard Kellmann | Max-Planck-Institut
Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen
23.02.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Atomic Design by Water
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy