Reconnaissance and latent learning in ants

Nigel R. Franks, James W. Hooper, Anna Dornhaus, Philippa J. Aukett, Alexander L. Hayward, Stefanie M. Berghoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


We show that ants can reconnoitre their surroundings and in effect plan for the future. Temnothorax albipennis colonies use a sophisticated strategy to select a new nest when the need arises. Initially, we presented colonies with a new nest of lower quality than their current one that they could explore for one week without a need to emigrate. We then introduced a second identical low quality new nest and destroyed their old nest so that they had to emigrate. Colonies showed a highly significant preference for the (low quality) novel new nest over the identical but familiar one. In otherwise identical experiments, colonies showed no such discrimination when the choice was between a familiar and an unfamiliar high-quality nest. When, however, either all possible pheromone marks were removed, or landmarks were re-orientated, just before the emigration, the ants chose between identical low-quality new nests at random. These results demonstrate for the first time that ants are capable of assessing and retaining information about the quality of potential new nest sites, probably by using both pheromones and landmark cues, even though this information may only be of strategic value to the colony in the future. They seem capable, therefore, of latent learning and, more explicitly, learning what not to do.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1505-1509
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1617
StatePublished - Jun 22 2007


  • Collective decision-making
  • House-hunting
  • Memory
  • Planning for the future
  • Public and private information
  • Temnothorax albipennis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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