Ants on treadmills...for science!

Seriously, Science?
By Seriously Science
Feb 22, 2017 5:00 PMNov 19, 2019 9:07 PM


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Few things are as entertaining as watching animals on treadmills. Although Penguins might be the cutest, these ants are pretty fun, too. Here, researchers set up a hollow styrofoam ball floating on a stream of air as a treadmill for desert ants. To keep the ants from wandering (or simply falling) off the treadmill, the scientists glued the thorax to a small pin. They then were able to precisely track the animals' movements and behavior as they navigated to their nests. Check out the video (below) to see the ants in action!

Naturalistic path integration of Cataglyphis desert ants on an air-cushioned lightweight spherical treadmill "Air-cushioned spheres are widely used as treadmills to study behavioural and neurophysiological questions in numerous species. We describe an improved spherical treadmill design that reliably registers the path and walking behaviour of an animal walking on top of the sphere. The simple and robust set-up consists of a very light hollowed styrofoam ball supported by an air stream in a hollow half sphere and can be used indoors and outdoors. Two optical mouse sensors provided with lenses of 4.6 mm focal length detect the motion of the sphere with a temporal resolution of more than 200 frames s−1 and a spatial resolution of less than 0.2 mm. The treadmill can be used in an open- or closed-loop configuration with respect to yaw of the animal. The tethering allows animals to freely adjust their body posture and in the closed-loop configuration to quickly rotate around their yaw axis with their own moment of inertia. In this account, we present the first evidence of naturalistic homing navigation on a spherical treadmill for two species of Cataglyphis desert ants. We were able to evaluate with good precision the walking speed and angular orientation at any time. During homing the ants showed a significant difference in walking speed between the approach and search phases; moreover, they slowed down significantly as soon as they reached zero vector state, the fictive nest position." Bonus video from the full text: Related content: Flashback Friday: Penguins on treadmills. Need we say more?NCBI ROFL: Ants in your pants?Raft-forming ants learn to “man” specific positions in the raft.

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