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Visual landmarks and route following in desert ants

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Little is known about the way in which animals far from home use familiar landmarks to guide their homeward path. Desert ants, Cataglyphis spp., which forage individually over long distances are beginning to provide some answers. We find that ants running 30 m from a feeding place to their nest memorise the visual characteristics of prominent landmarks which lie close to their path. Although remembered visual features are used for identifying a landmark and for deciding whether to go to its left or right, they are not responsible for the detailed steering of an ant's path. The form of the trajectory as an ant approaches and detours around a landmark seems to be controlled by the latter's immediate retinal size; the larger it is, the greater the ant's turning velocity away from the landmark.

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Collett, T.S., Dillmann, E., Giger, A. et al. Visual landmarks and route following in desert ants. J Comp Physiol A 170, 435–442 (1992).

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