Combined use of pheromone trails and visual landmarks by the common garden ant Lasius niger

  • Sophie E. F. Evison
  • Owen L. Petchey
  • Andrew P. Beckerman
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
Original Paper


This study investigated the relative importance of pheromone trails and visual landmarks on the ability of Lasius niger foragers to relocate a previously used food source. Colonies formed foraging trails to a 1-M sucrose feeder. Sections of this trail were then presented back to the same colony after variable time intervals. Individual outgoing foragers were observed to determine if they walked for 15 cm in the direction of the feeder or not. On newly established pheromone trails formed by 500 ant passages, 77% of the foragers walked in the correct direction vs 31% for control foragers (no trail pheromone). Pheromone trails decayed to the control levels in 20–24 h. Trails formed with fewer ant passages (125 or 30) decayed quicker. The use of visual landmarks was investigated by using trails with outgoing foragers from the colony that established the trail, either in the same room or in a different room, with different visual landmarks, to that used during trail establishment. Approximately 20% more ants walked in the correct direction in the same room vs the different room. This difference decreased to around 10% 2 h after trail establishment, indicating that the ants in the different room were learning the new visual cues to navigate by. Our results show that visual landmarks and pheromone trails are approximately equally useful in initially guiding L. niger foragers to food locations and that these two information sources have a complementary function.


Ant foraging Common garden ant Lasius niger Pheromone trails Vision 



We thank Duncan Jackson for commenting on the manuscript. SE was supported by an Industrial CASE Ph.D. studentship from BBSRC and Rentokil-Initial Plc.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie E. F. Evison
    • 1
  • Owen L. Petchey
    • 2
  • Andrew P. Beckerman
    • 2
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  3. 3.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Biological & Environmental ScienceUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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