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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2015 Jun;201(6):599-608. doi: 10.1007/s00359-014-0928-9. Epub 2014 Jul 26.

Transfer of directional information between the polarization compass and the sun compass in desert ants.

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Department of Biology, Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115, Berlin, Germany,


Desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, perform large foraging excursions during which they continuously compute a home vector that allows them to return to the nest on the shortest way. This type of navigation, termed path integration, needs a compass system and an odometer. Ants use several cues to determine their walking direction, two of the most important ones being the sun position and the polarization pattern of the sky. We tested whether an information transfer is possible from one compass system to the other, which depend on different anatomical substrates. Since the sky's polarization pattern is detected by UV-photoreceptors located in the dorsal rim area (DRA), we used an orange Perspex filter that eliminated the UV part of the spectrum to prevent the use of the polarization compass. The use of the sun compass could be excluded by appropriate screens. In the critical tests the ants had learned a nest-feeder direction with e.g. the sun compass only, and were later tested with the polarization compass, or vice versa. The results show that a transfer is possible in both directions.

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