Snapshot memories and landmark guidance in wood ants

Curr Biol. 2003 Sep 16;13(18):1614-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2003.08.024.


Insects are thought to pinpoint a place by using memorized "snapshots," i.e., two-dimensional retinotopic views of the surrounding landmarks recorded when at the place (reviewed in ). Insects then reach the place by moving until their current view matches their snapshot. To determine when snapshots are recalled, and how differences between view and snapshot are translated into appropriate movements, we analyzed the approaches of wood ants to a feeding site that was located in the center of an array of two or three cylinders. In ants, contrary to flying hymenopterans, body orientation and direction of travel are collinear, so that an ant approaching an object always looks at it with frontal visual field. On their way to a food site, ants fixated and approached a cylinder predominantly when its angular size was smaller than when viewed from the food site. This finding implies that ants store snapshots at this place while fixating landmarks with frontal retina, so simplifying the later alignment of snapshots with their current view. It also means that ants recall snapshots well in advance of reaching the place. Although snapshots are centered on a landmark, we show that they extend at least 120 degrees into the periphery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Food
  • Homing Behavior / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Fields