, Volume 177, Issue 1, pp 21-27

Desert ants Cataglyphis fortis use self-induced optic flow to measure distances travelled

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Abstract

While foraging, desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis use a vector navigation (route integration) system for homing. Any vector navigation system requires that the animal is able to evaluate the angles steered and the distances travelled. Here we investigate whether the ants acquire the latter information by monitoring self-induced optic flow. To answer this question, the animals were trained and tested within perspex channels in which patterns were presented underneath a transparent walking platform. The patterns could be moved at different velocities (up to > 0.5 the ant's walking speed) in the same or in the opposite direction relative to the direction in which the animal walked. Experimental manipulations of the optic flow influenced the ant's homing distances (Figs. 2 and 4). Distance estimation depends on the speed of self-induced image motion rather than on the contrast frequency, indicating that the motion sensitive mechanism involved is different from mechanisms mediating the optomotor response. Experiments in which the ants walked on a featureless floor, or in which they wore eye covers (Fig. 6), show that they are able also to use additional (probably kinesthetic) cues for assessing their travel distance. Hence, even though optic flow cues are not the only ones used by the ants, the experiments show that ants are obviously able to exploit such cues for estimation of travel distance.