Monday, 23 January 2017

Ants use Sun and memories to navigate

By Helen Briggs BBC News

19 January 2017

Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought.

Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing.

It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round.

Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings.

"Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris.

"They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation."

Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability.

Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest.

This often requires dragging food long distances backwards.

Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated.

"They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.

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