Ocelli contribute to the encoding of celestial compass information in the Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti

Sebastian Schwarz, Laurence Albert, Antoine Wystrach, Ken Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many animal species, including some social hymenoptera, use the visual system for navigation. Although the insect compound eyes have been well studied, less is known about the second visual system in some insects, the ocelli. Here we demonstrate navigational functions of the ocelli in the visually guided Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti. These ants are known to rely on both visual landmark learning and path integration. We conducted experiments to reveal the role of ocelli in the perception and use of celestial compass information and landmark guidance. Ants with directional information from their path integration system were tested with covered compound eyes and open ocelli on an unfamiliar test field where only celestial compass cues were available for homing. These full-vector ants, using only their ocelli for visual information, oriented significantly towards the fictive nest on the test field, indicating the use of celestial compass information that is presumably based on polarised skylight, the sun's position or the colour gradient of the sky. Ants without any directional information from their path-integration system (zero-vector) were tested, also with covered compound eyes and open ocelli, on a familiar training field where they have to use the surrounding panorama to home. These ants failed to orient significantly in the homeward direction. Together, our results demonstrated that M. bagoti could perceive and process celestial compass information for directional orientation with their ocelli. In contrast, the ocelli do not seem to contribute to terrestrial landmark-based navigation in M. bagoti.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)901-6
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue numberPt 6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2011


  • Animals
  • Ants
  • Australia
  • Compound Eye, Arthropod
  • Cues
  • Desert Climate
  • Homing Behavior
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Orientation
  • Solar System
  • Space Perception


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