Desert ant navigation: how miniature brains solve complex tasks

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 Aug;189(8):579-88. doi: 10.1007/s00359-003-0431-1. Epub 2003 Jul 23.


This essay presents and discusses the state of the art in studies of desert ant (Cataglyphis) navigation. In dealing with behavioural performances, neural mechanisms, and ecological functions these studies ultimately aim at an evolutionary understanding of the insect's navigational toolkit: its skylight (polarization) compass, its path integrator, its view-dependent ways of recognizing places and following landmark routes, and its strategies of flexibly interlinking these modes of navigation to generate amazingly rich behavioural outputs. The general message is that Cataglyphis uses path integration as an egocentric guideline to acquire continually updated spatial information about places and routes. Hence, it relies on procedural knowledge, and largely context-dependent retrieval of such knowledge, rather than on all-embracing geocentred representations of space.

Publication types

  • Lecture
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / classification
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Desert Climate*
  • Distance Perception / physiology
  • Learning
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Mathematics
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Species Specificity