Ants use the panoramic skyline in part to determine a direction of travel. A theoretically elegant way to define where terrestrial objects meet the sky is to use an opponent-process channel contrasting green wavelengths of light with ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths. Compared with the sky, terrestrial objects reflect relatively more green wavelengths. Using such an opponent-process channel gains constancy in the face of changes in overall illumination level. We tested the use of UV wavelengths in desert ants by using a plastic that filtered out most of the energy below 400 nm. Ants, Melophorus bagoti, were trained to home with an artificial skyline provided by an arena (experiment 1) or with the natural panorama (experiment 2). On a test, a homing ant was captured just before she entered her nest, and then brought back to a replicate arena (experiment 1) or the starting point (the feeder, experiment 2) and released. Blocking UV light led to deteriorations in orientation in both experiments. When the artificial skyline was changed from opaque to transparent UV-blocking plastic (experiment 3) on the other hand, the ants were still oriented. We conclude that UV wavelengths play a crucial role in determining direction based on the terrestrial surround.
- desert ants