Ants are first animal known to navigate by stereo smell
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News
An artist's impression of how an ant may sense smell, creating an odour map
Desert ants in Tunisia smell in stereo, sensing odours from two different directions at the same time.
By sniffing the air with each antenna, the ants form a mental 'odour map' of their surroundings.
They then use this map to find their way home, say scientists who report the discovery in the journal Animal Behaviour.
Pigeons, rats and even people may also smell in stereo, but ants are the first animal known to use it for navigation.
I get the feeling that whatever task these ants have to solve, they succeed
Dr Markus Knaden, Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Dr Markus Knaden and colleagues Dr Kathrin Steck and Professor Bill Hansson of the Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany investigated how the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis navigates around its surroundings.
Each day, individual ants will leave the nest entrance and travel up to 100m in search of food.
When they find some, they return straight home, somehow finding their tiny nest entrance again within a bleak, relatively featureless desert landscape.
Scientists knew the ant uses a sophisticated array of visual cues to find much of its way home.