The insects can learn many food odors and remember them all their lives
- September 24, 2018
- Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
- Desert ants can quickly learn many different food odors and remember them for the rest of their lives. Their memory for nest odors seems to differ from their food odor memory: Whereas food odors are learned and kept after a single contact, ants need several trials to memorize nest odors and forget a nest-associated odor quickly after it has been removed from the nest. Hence, ants process food and nest odors differently in their brains.
The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis has an extraordinary memory for different food odors. The insect is able to learn many food odors very quickly and never forgets them for the rest of its life. Credit: Markus Knaden/Max Planck Institute for Chemical EcologyScientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology used behavioral experiments to show that desert ants are able to quickly learn many different food odors and remember them for the rest of their lives. However, their memory for nest odors seems to differ from their food odor memory: Whereas food odors are learned and kept after a single contact, ants need several trials to memorize nest odors. Moreover, ants forget a nest-associated odor very quickly after it has been removed from the nest. Hence, ants process food and nest odors differently in their brains.The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis has amazing abilities to trace food and to return to its nest in the North African desert. Its sense of smell has a central function for orientation. The ant is not only a master navigator, it is also a memory artist. Behavioral scientists Markus Knaden from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology has been studying the navigational skills of this ant species for years. Until now, he was particularly interested in how the small insects find their way back to their nest after an extensive search for food in the vast salt pans of the Tunisian Sahara. After all, the nest entrance is only a small inconspicuous hole in the desert surface. He and his team found that -- apart from other factors -- the specific nest odor plays a crucial role. However, during their experiments, the researchers had noticed that ants learned food odors much faster than nest odors. "Our central question was whether different types of memory exist for food and nest search. The idea to compare both learning processes popped up when we observed that the ants were able to learn food odors so incredibly fast in comparison to nest odors which need to be trained much longer," first author Roman Huber explains. Read on: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180924153418.htm