Phase-dependent visual control of the zigzag paths of navigating wood ants

Curr Biol. 2013 Dec 2;23(23):2393-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.014. Epub 2013 Nov 21.


Animals sometimes take sinuous paths to a goal. Insects, tracking an odor trail on the ground [1-3] or moving up an odor plume in the air [4, 5], generally follow zigzag paths. Some insects [6-8] take a zigzag approach to visual targets, perhaps to obtain parallax information. How does an animal keep its overall path in the direction of the goal without disrupting a zigzag pattern? We describe here the wood ant's strategy when guided by a familiar visual scene. If their travel direction is correct, ants face the goal briefly after each turning point along their zigzag path. If the direction is wrong, they turn rapidly at this point to place the scene correctly on their retina. Such saccade-like turns are rare elsewhere in the zigzag. Similarly, when the scene is made to jump to a new position on their retina, ants wait until an expected goal-facing phase of the zigzag before turning to correct the imposed error. Correctly timed, intermittent control allows an animal to adjust its path without compromising additional roles for the zigzag pattern in gathering visual information or in using odor cues for guidance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Feedback, Sensory
  • Odorants
  • Orientation*
  • Space Perception
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Perception*
  • Walking / physiology*