Any casual observer of ants has probably discovered that, somehow, ants are able to return to their colony even when walking backwards. A new study in Current Biology by Sebastian Swartz and colleagues has shown just how one ant species, Cataglyphis velox, achieves such accurate navigation. It turns out that foraging workers take little peeks forward every once in a while, and then are able to correctly navigate even when looking backwards. This suggests that the ants are integrating celestial guidance (e.g. using ocelli) and remembered visual cues to get back home. Even though ants are known for their chemical trail-based communication, this study (among others) shows that several ant species can also be useful systems for understanding complex visual orientation in insects.

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Cataglyphis velour workers and queen. Photo: Hugo Darras/Flickr