Lesson from ants' sense of direction

Mechanism of storing images could help in creating robots


Desert ant

The desert ants have a panoramic vision, which enables them to see the sky clearly. Getting a clear view of the sky is important because it acts as their compass, explained, Prof Rudiger Wehner of Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, here on Tuesday.

Addressing a gathering here on ‘Desert ant navigation - mini brains-mega tasks - smart solutions,’ Prof Wehner explained that although the brain of Catglyphis Fortis or desert ant was small, it kept track of its nest through polarised or celestial compass.

"The ant determines its direction by setting its compass to the skylight situation and then moves out for the day. Although, they are scattered when they leave the nest in search of the food, once they find food these ants quickly head for the nest in a straight line," he said.

However, if their vision is hampered they make mistakes. The sky compass was not the only help they took, these ants also count steps while charting their course, he said.

Interestingly, although the ants have small brains, Prof Wehner said that these insects, which are usually solitary while hunting for food, took photographic images of the landmarks to easily identify their nests.

"They store a series of images when they first travel out of the nest and later they match these stored images when they move in and out of the nest.

So, how does this study help humans?

Wehner said the ant's mechanism of storing images  could help in creating robots, which could operate on its own.

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