Desert ants are extremely impressive navigators - foraging for food over large distances (sometimes >100m), before racing back to their hidden nest entrances to escape the extreme desert heat. These ants do not lay pheromone cues as they would evaporate very quickly from the desert surface. Instead they navigate by visual cues, which is surprising given their low-resolution compound eyes. Yet, in the maze-like world of desert scrub individual ants will learn visually guided routes leading to, and from, a plentiful food source e.g. a pile of cookie crumbs.

In the summer of 2009, in an abandoned field on the outskirts of Seville, Spain, we recorded these paths in the Spanish desert ant species Cataglyphis velox [1]. In addition we mapped the area around the nest, allowing the creation of a realistic 3D simulated ant habitat [2]. Combining these data with the known optical properties of the ant eye we can recreate the visual experience of each ant as she travelled her route (Mangan et al, in preparation). The panoramic "ant-eye" view for a point in the ant world looks like the image above.

The Ant Navigation Challenge invites you to try and design a method that will navigate like an ant when given realistic visual input.

References

[1] M. Mangan., B. Webb. Spontaneous formation of multiple routes in individual desert ants (Cataglyphis velox). Behavioral Ecology 23:944-954 (2012).

[2] M. Mangan., Visual Homing in field crickets and desert ants: a comparative behavioural and modelling study. PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh (2011).