A motion compensation treadmill for untethered wood ants (Formica rufa): evidence for transfer of orientation memories from free-walking training

Roman Goulard, Cornelia Buehlmann, Jeremy E. Niven, Paul Graham, Barbara Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The natural scale of insect navigation during foraging makes it challenging to study under controlled conditions. Virtual Reality and trackball setups have offered experimental control over visual environments while studying tethered insects, but potential limitations and confounds introduced by tethering motivates the development of alternative untethered solutions. In this paper we validate the use of a motion compensator (or 'treadmill') to study visually-driven behaviour of freely moving wood ants (Formica rufa). We show how this setup allows naturalistic walking behaviour and preserves foraging motivation over long timeframes. Furthermore, we show that ants are able to transfer associative and navigational memories from classical maze and arena contexts to our treadmill. Thus, we demonstrate the possibility to study navigational behaviour over ecologically relevant durations (and virtual distances) in precisely controlled environments, bridging the gap between natural and highly controlled laboratory experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb228601
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume223
Issue number24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Insects
  • Navigation
  • Visual memory
  • Associative learning
  • Motion compensator
  • Treadmill
  • Untethered

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