Ongoing research has shown that ants can find their bearings and understand relatively complex directions, regardless of their body orientation.

Given their size and the commonly held idea that insect brains are far more primitive than those of reptiles or mammals, scientists believed that ants would simply memorize directions that they needed and follow it using a body-centered frame of reference. However, the new study has shown ants being able to follow certain paths while going backwards, which demonstrates a higher level of memory utilisation, given the automatic reorientation that they must have to make to do this. Furthermore, some ants were able to carry objects through a path, drop the object, re-orientate themselves and then carry on moving backwards with the object, demonstrating skills thought impossible in insects.

Biological Sciences students should consider how to set up experiments to check for animal learning and memory development. They should also look at some of the key biological differences in brain utilisation between insects, mammals, reptiles and birds, while noting important learned traits (e.g. Inbuilt migration knowledge from birds and butterflies that have never made the journey before).

More Resources