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Smelling the scenery in stereo
Date:3/9/2010

This press release is available in German.

Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have investigated another navigational skill of desert ants. These ants are already well-known for their remarkable visual orientation: they use a sun compass along with a step counter and visible landmarks to locate their nest after foraging for food. After the research team from Jena recently discovered that these ants also use olfactory cues to pinpoint their nests, they conducted new experiments: they revealed that the animals can not only locate an odour source, but also use the distribution of different odours in the vicinity of their nests in a map-like manner. The scientists found that the ants need both their antennae for this odour-guided navigation: they smell the scenery in stereo. (Animal Behaviour, online first, doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.01.011)

The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis is an insect native to the inhospitable salt-pans of Tunisia. To pinpoint the nest a tiny hole in the desert ground - after foraging for food, Cataglyphis combines several navigation systems: a sun compass, a path integrator (the ant literally counts its steps), and visual recognition of landmarks. Recently, Kathrin Steck, Bill Hansson and Markus Knaden, neuroethologists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, discovered that local odours also play an important role in the insect's orientation (Frontiers in Zoology, 2009, Vol. 6 No. 5): ants learn to associate a smell with their nest and distinguish this smell from others. But the researchers wanted to know if the insects are also able to recognize odour patterns that emerge, when several odour sources are located at different positions around the nest. And if so, they asked, do ants need both their antennae like stereo receivers just as we employ two eyes and two ears for spatia
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Contact: Bill S. Hansson
hansson@ice.mpg.de
49-036-415-71400
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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