Visual scanning behaviours and their role in the navigation of the Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2014 Jul;200(7):615-26. doi: 10.1007/s00359-014-0900-8. Epub 2014 Mar 30.


Ants are excellent navigators, using a combination of innate strategies and learnt information to guide habitual routes. The mechanisms underlying this behaviour are little understood though one avenue of investigation is to explore how innate sensori-motor routines are used to accomplish route navigation. For instance, Australian desert ant foragers are occasionally observed to cease translation and rotate on the spot. Here, we investigate this behaviour using high-speed videography and computational analysis. We find that scanning behaviour is saccadic with pauses separated by fast rotations. Further, we have identified four situations where scanning is typically displayed: (1) by naïve ants on their first departure from the nest; (2) by experienced ants departing from the nest for their first foraging trip of the day; (3) by experienced ants when the familiar visual surround was experimentally modified, in which case frequency and duration of scans were proportional to the degree of modification; (4) when the information from visual cues is at odds with the direction indicated by the ant's path integration system. Taken together, we see a general relationship between scanning behaviours and periods of uncertainty.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cues
  • Environment
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Homing Behavior
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Rotation
  • Saccades
  • Spatial Navigation*
  • Video Recording