Sequence Learning in Ants
Insect navigation is often characterised as a procedural behaviour, whereby to guide a route an insect has learnt to associate specific actions with particular places. Extra robustness could be added to route knowledge if insects could associate sequential actions, such that action A at place A’ primes the correct action B at place B’. Such sequence learning has been much studied in honeybees (mainly by S Zhang and colleagues), but less so in ants (see “Odometry versus sequence in a visual choice task” Jun 20th). In an extensive set of experiments, Riabinina et al have tried to demonstrate sequence learning in wood ants. They found that a coloured pattern could prime the choice of a black and white striped pattern, but not vice-versa. They suggest that colour may work as a priming cue only because of a strong after-images. Essentially, therefore, the ants could be responding to an instantaneous perception in the second choice box.
This result suggests interesting differences between bees and ants. It is possible that sequence learning in bees taps into the cognitive./behavioural repertoire that they possess for flower choices rather than route learning, which would likely be common to bees and ants.
Olena Riabinina, Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Lisa Howard and Thomas S. Collett (2011) Do wood ants learn sequences of visual stimuli? J Exp Biol 214:2739-2748