Desert ants have an internal system – like a pedometer – that keeps track of how many steps they take, according to a new study. The insects seem to rely on this system to find their way back to the nest after foraging. Other insects may also possess this pedometer-like system.
Some types of ant appear to use visual cues or leave scent trails to find their way home. But desert ants have a remarkable ability to retrace their steps from their nesting site even though they travel on flat terrain that is devoid of landmarks, and any odours quickly fade in the hot temperatures.
hey decided to measure how much the modified ants over- or underestimated distances. First, they allowed unaltered ants to learn the distance between a nesting site and food source separated by a 10-metre aluminium channel.
After a set time the ants were removed from the food source and immobilised temporarily in a wax-like material. Wolf’s team then either removed about 1 millimetre from the tips of the insects’ legs or attached 1-millimetre “stilts” made of lightweight bristles.
The ants were then placed back at the feeding site and allowed to return to their nest along another aluminium channel – which did not connect to the nest.
Ok, now it is a little unsettling. The idea that man can decide to “immobilise” an ant by cutting off it’s legs in the name of science is a little hard to take in. Or am I just being a paranoid. It’s just an ant.