Innate colour preference, individual learning and memory retention in the ant Camponotus blandus

Ayse Yilmaz, Adrian G. Dyer, Wolfgang Rössler, Johannes Spaethe

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Ants are a well-characterized insect model for the study of visual learning and orientation, but the extent to which colour vision is involved in these tasks remains unknown.We investigated the colour preference, learning and memory retention of Camponotus blandus foragers under controlled laboratory conditions. Our results show that C. blandus foragers exhibit a strong innate preference for ultraviolet (UV, 365 nm) over blue (450 nm) and green (528 nm) wavelengths. The ants can learn to discriminate 365 nm from either 528 nm or 450 nm, independent of intensity changes. However, they fail to discriminate between 450 nm and 528 nm. Modelling of putative colour spaces involving different numbers of photoreceptor types revealed that colour discrimination performance of individual ants is best explained by dichromacy, comprising a short-wavelength (UV) receptor with peak sensitivity at about 360 nm, and a long-wavelength receptor with peak sensitivity between 470 nm and 560 nm. Foragers trained to discriminate blue or green from UV light are able to retain the learned colour information in an early mid-term (e-MTM), late midterm (l-MTM), early long-term (e-LTM) and late long-term (l-LTM) memory from where it can be retrieved after 1 h, 12 h, 24 h, 3 days and 7 days after training, indicating that colour learning may induce different memory phases in ants. Overall, our results show that ants can use chromatic information in a way that should promote efficient foraging in complex natural environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3315-3326
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2017


  • Cognitive capacity
  • Colour learning
  • Colour memory retrieval
  • Long-term memory
  • Mid-term memory
  • Vision

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