University of Zürich
November 18-22, 2002
Ant Navigation: Mini Brains-Mega Tasks-Smart Solutions
Ants of the Sahara desert, Cataglyphis by name, are skillful navigators. While foraging and homing over distances of several thousand times their body lengths, they accomplish truly formidable tasks. They use a pattern in the sky that is invisible to man to steer their compass courses, and then they integrate all angles steered and all distances covered by remarkable acumen. This system of path integration works even in completely featureless terrain. In addition, Cataglyphis can use landmarks by employing photographic skyline memories. Finally, they rely on search strategies that are much more efficient than a random walk would let one assume.
This talk focused on the behavioral performances as well as on the sensory and neural mechanisms that are involved in mediating this behavior. How can a 0.1 -mg brain equipped with a panoramic compound-eye system accomplish these awe-inspiring modes of behavior? The presentation focused on the general sensory stratagems employed by Cataglyphis, and showed that this small-brain navigator uses simpler tricks than meets the human designer's eye. Cataglyphoid robots are used to test the hypotheses derived from neurophysiological analyses.
The general message is that a high-level task can be solved by the cooperation of a number of low-level systems. These low-level systems are adapted to the particular ecological niche, within which the desert navigator operates.