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The significance of direct sunlight and polarized skylight in the ant's celestial system of navigation.


Wehner, R; Müller, M (2006). The significance of direct sunlight and polarized skylight in the ant's celestial system of navigation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 103(33):12575-12579.

Abstract

As textbook knowledge has it, bees and ants use polarized skylight as a backup cue whenever the main compass cue, the sun, is obscured by clouds. Here we show, by employing a unique experimental paradigm, that the celestial compass system of desert ants, Cataglyphis, relies predominantly on polarized skylight. If ants experience only parts of the polarization pattern during training but the full pattern in a subsequent test situation, they systematically deviate from their true homeward courses, with the systematics depending on what parts of the skylight patterns have been presented during training. This "signature" of the polarization compass remains unaltered, even if the ants can simultaneously experience the sun, which, if presented alone, enables the ants to select their true homeward courses. Information provided by direct sunlight and polarized skylight is picked up by different parts of the ant's compound eyes and is channeled into two rather separate systems of navigation.

As textbook knowledge has it, bees and ants use polarized skylight as a backup cue whenever the main compass cue, the sun, is obscured by clouds. Here we show, by employing a unique experimental paradigm, that the celestial compass system of desert ants, Cataglyphis, relies predominantly on polarized skylight. If ants experience only parts of the polarization pattern during training but the full pattern in a subsequent test situation, they systematically deviate from their true homeward courses, with the systematics depending on what parts of the skylight patterns have been presented during training. This "signature" of the polarization compass remains unaltered, even if the ants can simultaneously experience the sun, which, if presented alone, enables the ants to select their true homeward courses. Information provided by direct sunlight and polarized skylight is picked up by different parts of the ant's compound eyes and is channeled into two rather separate systems of navigation.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Zoology (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:15 August 2006
Deposited On:11 Feb 2008 12:17
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:15
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences
ISSN:0027-8424
Publisher DOI:10.1073/pnas.0604430103
PubMed ID:16888039
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-684

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