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The Ant Odometer: Stepping on Stilts and Stumps

Science  30 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5782, pp. 1965-1967
DOI: 10.1126/science.1126912

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Abstract

Desert ants, Cataglyphis, navigate in their vast desert habitat by path integration. They continuously integrate directions steered (as determined by their celestial compass) and distances traveled, gauged by as-yet-unknown mechanisms. Here we test the hypothesis that navigating ants measure distances traveled by using some kind of step integrator, or “step counter.” We manipulated the lengths of the legs and, hence, the stride lengths, in freely walking ants. Animals with elongated (“stilts”) or shortened legs (“stumps”) take larger or shorter strides, respectively, and concomitantly misgauge travel distance. Travel distance is overestimated by experimental animals walking on stilts and underestimated by animals walking on stumps.

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