Route-following ants respond to alterations of the view sequence

Sebastian Schwarz, Michael Mangan, Barbara Webb, Antoine Wystrach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ants can navigate by comparing the currently perceived view with memorised views along a familiar foraging route. Models regarding route-following suggest that the views are stored and recalled independently of the sequence in which they occur. Hence, the ant only needs to evaluate the instantaneous familiarity of the current view to obtain a heading direction. This study investigates whether ant homing behaviour is influenced by alterations in the sequence of views experienced along a familiar route, using the frequency of stop-and-scan behaviour as an indicator of the ant’s navigational uncertainty. Ants were trained to forage between their nest and a feeder which they exited through a short channel before proceeding along the homeward route. In tests, ants were collected before entering the nest and released again in the channel, which was placed either in its original location or halfway along the route. Ants exiting the familiar channel in the middle of the route would thus experience familiar views in a novel sequence. Results show that ants exiting the channel scan significantly more when they find themselves in the middle of the route, compared with when emerging at the expected location near the feeder. This behaviour suggests that previously encountered views influence the recognition of current views, even when these views are highly familiar, revealing a sequence component to route memory. How information about view sequences could be implemented in the insect brain, as well as potential alternative explanations to our results, are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb218701
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020


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