The way ants find their way home has been studied and studied by thousands of scientists. And not just this: in this ability of insects a lot of mechanisms are involved, allowing a new look not only at the insect world, but also on the ability of the person himself.
As it turned out, the ants find their way home in several ways. They use for this:
- orientation on the sun, although most people themselves on the sun can hardly navigate in space
- memorizing landscapes and various objects
- chemical methods
- Built-in pedometer
- magnetic field of the Earth.
And, as experts-myrmecologists (scientists studying ants) cautiously note, they quite admit the presence of other mechanisms that allow ants to unerringly find their way home, but have not yet been studied by man. Although each of the above methods is very effective in itself and can provide ants with error-free navigation.
On a note
The desire to their place of residence or birth, scientists call the word "homing" (from the English Home - home). It is especially evident in salmons who unmistakably find a river in which they hatched from caviar fry, after long years of dwelling in the oceanic expanses.
Chemical labels on routes
Chemical orientation is used by all ants without exception. They are generally characterized by high sensitivity to smells and a tendency to chemical communication. The ants do not publish sounds, and in some species the working individuals are completely blind, and smells for them remain the only way of communication, searching for food and orientation in space.
For communication and the formation of labels, ants use a variety of pheromones specific for each species and for each specific situation. Including - and for marking the routes.
It is interesting
Smells are also used by many ants-slave owners and insects parasitizing in anthills. For example, by learning to produce pheromones specific to a specific kind of ants, they enter their homes and there either feed on ants or their eggs, or steal larvae, or simply live in comfort conditions for them.
To return to the anthill, each ant leaves microscopic scent marks as it moves. And the paths along which insects move especially often look to them, as for a person - highways. And "trampled" once - like a path in the forest.
It is very important and topochemical feeling of ants, thanks to which they can determine not only the smell of the label, but also its size and direction. Such subtleties of sense of smell are not even found in dogs: a hunting dog, stumbling upon a hare track, may be mistaken in the direction of the movement of the prey. The ant, after encountering a chemical mark, will know exactly where the previous and next labels are, and also in which side the anthill is lying, and in what direction is the food source.
It is not necessary to consider this ability of ants as drawing pheromones of original arrows. This is a visual interpretation of such a phenomenon, but it works on the same principle: in the amount of odorous matter and its smell for an insect and coded all the necessary information.
On a note
In order to confuse ants, it is enough to "smash" the smell of their road mark with a stronger flavor. Simple spraying of tracks with deodorant is enough for this. However, thanks to the innate diligence of the ants very quickly restore the original path.
Thus, each trail of ants is a kind of road with a large number of direction indicators, understandable to each working individual.
Physical objects as reliable reference points
Remembering the location of different objects and elements of the landscape, so understandable to us, is typical for ants. However, given the size of the insects themselves, this way of orientation has some features.
- Ants remember objects of their scale: grass bushes, individual stones, cracks in the ground. It would be too reckless to expect them to be oriented on buildings and rivers.
- A system of unique images of the territory of the ant actively complements the navigation of the heavenly bodies. In laboratory experiments, it was found that if the ant fodder with the anthill turns relative to the Sun, without changing the position of landmarks, insects are confused. Of course, in nature these situations do not happen, which makes such a system very reliable: if you change the landscape around an anthill (to clear, for example, grass), insects still orient themselves on the Sun.
It is interesting that some ants actively train their comrades to find their way home and a site with food. And such training does not at all resemble the simple following of one forager (member of an anthill specializing in obtaining food) after another: if the "student" lags behind the "teacher", the teacher waits for him and helps him find the best way.
Orientation on the Sun
The ability of ants to navigate the Sun is very complex and is still being actively studied.
First, ants can take into account the direction to the Sun, even with short-term and small movements.
Secondly, these insects know how to make a correction for the displacement of the luminary over time. Even if the ant escapes from the anthill in the morning, and returns only by noon, he will take into account that during this time the Sun rose above the horizon.
Thirdly, in the eyes of ants there are special cells that take into account the direction of sunlight. So they do not have to make any calculations: their brain itself receives information from target cells and makes the necessary correction.
Landmark - the magnetic field of the Earth
It is still not completely known whether all the ants are using the orientation of the Earth's magnetic field, or only the leaf-cutting ants investigated specifically for this purpose. But as a result of the experiment it was found out that when the smell marks were broken and in the absence of sunlight, the behavior of the ants could be changed, introducing some interference into the magnetic field in the area of movement of insects.
Most likely, any of the ant organs works in the compass mode, catching the direction to the north, which, when combined with other orienteering systems, helps insects to find the direction of movement that they need. With its help, the ants find their way home even at dusk, when the Sun is already hiding behind the horizon.
The ants find the house ... counting the steps!
And this discovery in the field of ants' behavior was the biggest surprise for ethologists: many species of ants search for food consider the number of steps done in a certain direction. Today, scientists even consider that ants count the steps between each turn.
This ability was discovered by a research group that did not conduct the most ethical experiment: several ants from the same anthill were clipped legs, and several others - miniature stilts were glued to the feet. A group of "short-legged" ants ended their way to the stern, not reaching it, the group of "ants on stilts" successfully ran through the site with food and began to look for food further, where it does not exist.
In most species of ants, when searching for a road home and in general when orienting in space, if not all of the above, then several of the described methods are combined, which increases the accuracy of finding the desired route. For many ants, this is especially important. For example, representatives of species living in deserts, risk simply to burn in the sun or die from dehydration on the surface of the earth with a temperature of about 50 ° C if at the right time they will not be able to return to the cool hole.
It is possible that the ants in the future will give people a few more surprises in the field of orientation in space.