About the episode
To find food and their nesting companions, desert ants have to travel gigantic distances of up to 2 kilometers in difficult conditions. And if they manage to find something to eat in this vast mass of burning sand, they face an even greater challenge: finding the nest.
A specific species of ant, which lives in the salt fields of Tunisia, has caught the attention of researchers for its impressive navigational abilities. This ant uses different tactics to quickly find its way back to the nest in extreme circumstances. An internal compass that uses the sun helps them determine where they are along with an internal pedometer. What they have also developed is the ability to use elements of the landscape to find their way back.
But what if there isn’t? It has been noticed that the nests of these ants, when there is no nearby vegetation or mounds, have an elevation at the entrance. If the researchers removed this elevation, many ants, which were tracked by GPS, would no longer be able to find the entrance. The inhabitants of the nest also went to work like crazy to restore the mountain. But if the researchers placed something like a small black cylinder near the removed elevation, the ants didn’t rebuild it.
How the nest determines that construction should be done quickly is still a mystery. Nest residents may notice fewer ants returning and this is the signal to begin.
Read more about research here: Desert ants increase the visibility of their nest entrances in the absence of landmarks.
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