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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

Climate,, Oceans

Solar panels are poised to be truly green

By Thomas Sumner 11:00am, December 6, 2016
Solar panels are about to break even on their energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

Names for four new elements get seal of approval

By Emily Conover 1:35pm, November 30, 2016
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has approved the proposed names for the four elements added to the periodic table in December 2015.
Oceans,, Climate,, Animals

Coral die-off in Great Barrier Reef reaches record levels

By Sarah Zielinski 9:43am, November 29, 2016
Bleaching has killed more than two-thirds of corals in some parts of the Great Barrier Reef, scientists have confirmed.
Animals,, Neuroscience,, Psychology

Dogs form memories of experiences

By Laura Sanders 12:00pm, November 23, 2016
New experiments suggest that dogs have some version of episodic memory, allowing them to recall specific experiences.
Health,, Microbiology

This week in Zika: Vaginal vulnerability, disease double trouble and more

By Meghan Rosen 12:30pm, November 17, 2016
Puerto Rico cases of Zika suggest that the virus prefers women. And two new findings reveal more about Zika’s transmission and ability to survive outside the body.

In some ways, hawks hunt like humans

By Helen Thompson 10:57am, November 17, 2016
Raptors may track their prey in similar patterns to primates.
Clinical Trials,, Cancer,, Genetics

Chinese patient is first to be treated with CRISPR-edited cells

By Tina Hesman Saey 7:00am, November 16, 2016
Researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 to engineer immune cells that were then injected into a patient with lung cancer, the journal Nature reports.
Climate,, Animals

Skimpy sea ice linked to reindeer starvation on land

By Susan Milius 7:23pm, November 15, 2016
Unseasonably scant sea ice may feed rain storms inland that lead to ice catastrophes that kill Yamal reindeer and threaten herders’ way of life.
Climate,, Pollution

CO2 emissions stay steady for third consecutive year

By Thomas Sumner 8:30am, November 15, 2016
Global emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities will probably see almost no increase in 2016 despite economic growth.
Animals,, Biophysics,, Conservation

Narwhals are really, really good at echolocation

By Helen Thompson 11:33am, November 11, 2016
Audio recordings from the Arctic suggest that narwhals take directional sonar to the extreme.
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