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J Exp Biol. 2000 Mar;203(Pt 5):857-68.

Pinpointing food sources: olfactory and anemotactic orientation in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis.

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  • 1Zoologisches Institut, Universität Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland.


Desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, search for a repeatedly visited food source by employing a combined olfactory and anemotactic orientation strategy (in addition to their visually based path-integration scheme). This behaviour was investigated by video-tracking consecutive foraging trips of individually marked ants under a variety of experimental conditions, including manipulations of the olfactory and wind-detecting systems of the ants. If the wind blows from a constant direction, ants familiar with the feeding site follow outbound paths that lead them into an area 0.5-2.5 m downwind of the feeding station. Here, the ants apparently pick up odour plumes emanating from the food source and follow these by steering an upwind course until they reach the feeder. If the food is removed, foragers usually concentrate their search movements within the area downwind of the feeding site. Only when the wind happens to subside or when tail-wind conditions prevail do the ants steer direct courses towards the food. Elimination of olfactory input by clipping the antennal flagella, or of wind perception by immobilising the bases of the antennae, altered the foraging behaviour of the ants in ways that supported these interpretations. Ants with clipped flagella were never observed to collect food items.

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