Ants use vector or visual information to head to a particular goal. To cope with disturbances or ‘errors’ arising from their global vector, they use landmarks either as familiar beacons to guide their entire journey or/and to pinpoint a specific location. Studies on Formica and Melophorus bagoti have shown the ants correct for any local displacements along the route which led several authors (me included!) to predict that ants use panoramic cues for homing.
Till date, however, no studies have explicitly tested this. Paul and Ken do exactly this in their recent article in Current Biology. By mimicking the skyline profile using walls of differing dimensions, they provide the best experimental evidence for the use of panoramic skyline not only for ants, but also for any insect. They show the ant’s orientation in the natural scene is similar to the skyline profile they provided. They then rotated the skyline profile and found the ants change their orientation to match the rotation of the panorama.
Paul Graham & Ken Cheng. 2009. Ants use the panoramic skyline as a visual cue during navigation. Current Biology 19: R935 – R937