In an ant's world, the smaller you are, the harder it is to see obstacles

phys.org | 4/18/2018 | Staff
tiffcourt011 (Posted by) Level 3
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Look around your home or garden, or while out for a walk in the bush, and you'll soon find plenty of ants of all shapes and sizes making their way around the place.

But how do ants detect and detour around obstacles, especially when they are finding food alone and not in a trail?

Study - Journal - Experimental - Biology - Answer

Our recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, has an interesting answer to that.

Ants' eyes are not like ours. Ants have compound eyes with many units, called ommatidia. Their eyes look like an array of LEDs you'd see in a traffic light (except in a dome shape).

Ommatidium - Point - Space - Eye - Image

Each ommatidium sees one point in space so the whole eye sees one image but different portions of it.

But ants cannot see the world at the same resolution as we do. Their world is blurrier than ours.

Way - Number - Diameter - Facets - Ommatidia

One way to know this is to count the number and diameter of facets (ommatidia) in their eyes. This is done by spreading a thin layer of transparent nail polish over a dead ant's eye and peeling it off once it dries.

The replica of the eye can be flattened by making cuts at suitable places and taking a picture of it to count the facets and estimate their spatial acuity (the best resolution at which they can visually perceive something).

Mosaic - Vision - Compound - Eye

Mosaic vision of compound eye.

Given their blurry vision, it is remarkable that ants can still carry out various tasks such as navigation in a complex terrain.

Imagine - Way - Thick - Jungle - Everything

Imagine finding your way out of a thick jungle where everything looks blurry. And the bad news for ants is that the problem gets worse the smaller they get.

Ants vary dramatically in size. There are big ants, such as Australia's Bull ants that can range from 8mm to 40mm, and then there are the tiny 1.5mm electric ants, which are...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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