Ant homing ability is not diminished when travelling backwards

Paul Bjorn Ardin, Michael Mangan, Barbara Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ants are known to be capable of homing to their nest after displacement to a novel location. This is widely assumed to involve some form of retinotopic matching between their current view and previously experienced views. One simple algorithm proposed to explain this behavior is continuous retinotopic alignment, in which the ant constantly adjusts its heading by rotating to minimize the pixel-wise difference of its current view from all views stored while facing the nest. However, ants with large prey items will often drag them home while facing backwards. We tested whether displaced ants (Myrmecia croslandi) dragging prey could still home despite experiencing an inverted view of their surroundings under these conditions. Ants moving backwards with food took similarly direct paths to the nest as ants moving forward without food, demonstrating that continuous retinotopic alignment is not a critical component of homing. It is possible that ants use initial or intermittent retinotopic alignment, coupled with some other direction stabilizing cue that they can utilize when moving backward. However, though most ants dragging prey would occasionally look toward the nest, we observed that their heading direction was not noticeably improved afterwards. We assume ants must use comparison of current and stored images for corrections of their path, but suggest they are either able to chose the appropriate visual memory for comparison using an additional mechanism; or can make such comparisons without retinotopic alignment.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number69
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2016


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