Multiple sources of celestial compass information in the central Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti

Antoine Wystrach, Sebastian Schwarz, P. Schultheiss, Alice Baniel, and Ken Cheng


The Central Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti is known to use celestial cues for compass orientation. We manipulated the available celestial cues for compass orientation for ants that had arrived at a feeder, were captured and then released at a distant test site that had no useful terrestrial panoramic cues. When tested in an enclosed transparent box that blocked some or most of the ultraviolet light, the ants were still well oriented homewards. The ants were again significantly oriented homewards when most of the ultraviolet light as well as the sun was blocked, or when the box was covered with tracing paper that eliminated the pattern of polarised light, although in the latter case, their headings were more scattered than in control (full-cue) conditions. When the position of the sun was reflected 180° by a mirror, the ants headed off in an intermediate direction between the dictates of the sun and the dictates of unrotated cues. We conclude that M. bagoti uses all available celestial compass cues, including the pattern of polarised light, the position of the sun, and spectral and intensity gradients. They average multiple cues in a weighted fashion when these cues conflict.

Published in

Journal of Comparative Physiology, vol. 200, n. 6, March 2014, pp. 591–601