Many ants rely on both visual cues and self-generated chemical signals for navigation, but their relative importance varies across species and context. We evaluated the roles of both modalities during colony emigration by Temnothorax rugatulus. Colonies were induced to move from an old nest in the center of an arena to a new nest at the arena edge. In the midst of the emigration the arena floor was rotated 60°around the old nest entrance, thus displacing any substrate-bound odor cues while leaving visual cues unchanged. This manipulation had no effect on orientation, suggesting little influence of substrate cues on navigation. When this rotation was accompanied by the blocking of most visual cues, the ants became highly disoriented, suggesting that they did not fall back on substrate cues even when deprived of visual information. Finally, when the substrate was left in place but the visual surround was rotated, the ants' subsequent headings were strongly rotated in the same direction, showing a clear role for visual navigation. Combined with earlier studies, these results suggest that chemical signals deposited by Temnothorax ants serve more for marking of familiar territory than for orientation. The ants instead navigate visually, showing the importance of this modality even for species with small eyes and coarse visual acuity.
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