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How desert ants navigate walking backward

Myrmecia piliventris

Foraging species like Cataglyphis velox and Myrmecia piliventris (shown) use celestial cues and visual memory to walk backward — helpful when dragging a big dinner home.

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Some ants are so good at navigating they can do it backward.

Researchers think that foraging ants memorize scenes in front of them to find their way back to the nest. But that only works when facing forward. Still, some species have been observed trekking in reverse to drag dinner home.

To find out how the ants manage this feat, Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues captured foraging desert ants (Cataglyphis velox) near a nest outside Seville, Italy. In a series of tests, they gave the ants cookie crumbles and released them at a fork in the route back to their nest.

With cookie chunks in tow, ants walking backward used cues from the sky to maintain a straight path. They also peeked behind them to check and adjust course. Regardless of their body orientation, ants maintained this new direction. Desert ants combine their celestial compass and long-term visual memories of the route to find their way home, the team concludes January 19 in Current Biology

Paleontology,, Animals,, Evolution

Ancient oddball invertebrate finds its place on the tree of life

By Cassie Martin 2:30pm, January 11, 2017
Ancient marine invertebrates called hyoliths may be more closely related to modern horseshoe worms than mollusks, a fossil analysis finds.
Earth,, Climate

Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf nears breaking point

By Thomas Sumner 3:32pm, January 9, 2017
A fast-growing crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf could soon break off a 5,000-square-kilometer hunk of ice into the ocean.
Biophysics

Baby starfish whip up whirlpools to snag a meal

By Emily Conover 12:00pm, December 23, 2016
Starfish larvae use hairlike cilia to stir up water whorls and suck prey in close.
Clinical Trials,, Health

Ebola vaccine proves effective, final trial results show

By Meghan Rosen 6:30pm, December 22, 2016
The Ebola vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV proved effective at stopping the spread of the virus in a clinical trial in West Africa.
Animals,, Genetics,, Evolution

Genome clues help explain the strange life of seahorses

By Cassie Martin 4:30pm, December 14, 2016
Researchers have decoded the genetic instruction manual of a seahorse (Hippocampus comes) and found clues to its nearly 104-million-year evolutionary history.
Planetary Science,, Chemistry

First signs of boron on Mars hint at past groundwater, habitability

By Thomas Sumner 6:34pm, December 13, 2016
The Curiosity rover has found the first signs of boron on Mars, which could hint at past habitable groundwater.
Cells,, Health,, Microbiology

Cell biologists learn how Zika kills brain cells, devise schemes to stop it

By Tina Hesman Saey 4:17pm, December 13, 2016
Cell biologists are learning more about how the Zika virus disrupts brain cells to cause microcephaly. Meanwhile, several strategies to combat the virus show preliminary promise.
Robotics

Caterpillar robot uses squishy, 3-D printed legs to inch and crawl

By Meghan Rosen 2:23pm, December 13, 2016
Squishy, 3-D printed legs help a caterpillar robot switch between inching and crawling, and offer sensory info about the world.
Health

Microcephaly cases surge in Colombia following rise in Zika infections

By Meghan Rosen 5:18pm, December 9, 2016
More than 400 cases of microcephaly have been reported in Colombia this year, months after Zika virus infections peaked in the country.
Materials,, Technology

Graphene Silly Putty detects pitter-patter of spider footsteps

By Emily Conover 2:00pm, December 8, 2016
Sensor made of graphene and Silly Putty can detect pulse, breathing — and spider feet.
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