Odometry and backtracking: social and individual navigation in group foraging desert harvester ants (Veromessor pergandei)
Veromessor pergandei harvester ants are group foragers which use a combination of social cues (pheromone-marked columns) and individual cues (e.g., self-generated movement, visual cues) when exploring foraging areas for resources. Upon finding food, individuals navigate back to the column, which guides their return to the nest. The direction and length of columns change between foraging bouts, and hence the end of the column (unlike the nest location) is non-stationary. We conducted displacement tests on returning foragers and present three novel findings. First, returning individual ants accurately estimate their distance from the foraging area to the end of the column. Second, ants that reached the column but only traveled a small proportion of the distance to the nest either show homeward or random orientation; random orientation was seen when the column was long. Third, ants that have traveled most of the way back to the nest along the column show backtracking when they are displaced—orienting in the direction opposite to the nest—similar to Australian desert ants Melophorus bagoti. This commonality suggests that some navigation strategies are general across species, and are utilized by ants that navigate individually or socially.
KeywordsAnts Veromessor pergandei Navigation Odometer Column foraging Backtracking
We are grateful for funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank Richard Leisen and Dennis Marquis for assistance with some of the field studies, Morgan Cselinacz for assistance with editing of the paper, Cody Freas for provision of the panoramic images and for comments on the paper, and Isaac Lank, Al Denington and Philip May for assistance with the measuring grid.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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