Home > Papers from 2011 > The role of ocelli in ant navigation

The role of ocelli in ant navigation

Re-posted as paper now published.

Revised post with author comments:

As well as their compound eyes, many insects possess light sensitive ocelli, which usually come in threes and are positioned on the top of the head. Their role in the stabilization of flight is relatively well-studied but little is known about the use of ocelli by walking insects. It was shown by Wehner for Cataglyphis that ants can use their ocelli to extract celestial compass information. Schwarz et al have recently confirmed this is also true for Melophorus and in this paper they extend that work to look at whether compass information extracted by the ocelli can be used by the path integration system. They found that ants with ocelli (but compound eyes covered) were unable to do standard path integration – suggesting compass information derived from eyes and ocelli are not ‘merged’. Instead, the ants with only ocelli were only able to aim in a direction opposite to the most recent leg of their journey. The role for this is not clear.

Sebastian Schwarz explains their study:

“After a foraging trip, zero-vector ants, without any information from their path integration system and covered compound eyes but open ocelli, headed opposite to the direction they came from. This unexpected but nonetheless interesting behaviour led us to a more detailed examination of the interaction of ocelli and path integration. We found that ocelli alone cannot mediate path integration like compound eyes do. After a two-legged outbound route, ant with covered compound eye but functional ocelli did not head towards their nest, as the path integrator would indicate, but headed instead towards the last leg of travel. The ocelli mediated compass might be a back up system in case the foraging ant was forced to leave her familiar foraging route and thus, supports a more effective homing in their visually cluttered environment. Ocelli were known for their function in flight stabilisation, but in ground-based insects their role in such a distinct compass system raises a number of functional, mechanistic and evolutionary questions.”

Sebastian Schwarz, Antoine Wystrach, and Ken Cheng (2011) A new navigational mechanism mediated by ant ocelli. Biol Lett published 6 July 2011, 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0489

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Categories: Papers from 2011
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