Ants use a variety of navigational mechanisms in homing, including pheromone trails, landmarks, compasses, and visual “snapshots” of the landscape. In many cases, an ant has more than one of these information types available and may give priority to one mechanism over the others. We investigated how the ant Formica podzolica Francoeur makes use of polarized light during the initial stages of homing. When ants were displaced to an unfamiliar area, they spent significantly more time in the 90° arc centered on their perception of the direction to the nest. This preference was eliminated by modifying the ants’ view of the sky with a polarizing filter, suggesting that F. podzolica use polarized light information. However, the displacements also showed that the ants make use of nest-specific information (possibly landmarks or snapshot matching) to recalibrate their homeward paths. When confronted with incompatible orientation information from polarized light in the sky and landmarks, the ant seems to reorient using landmarks, overriding the information from polarized light.
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Vol. 101 • No. 6