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Cataglyphis bicolor casent0104612 profile 1.jpg
Cataglyphis bicolor worker
Scientific classification

Förster, 1850
93 species

Eomonocombus Arnol'di, 1968
Machaeromyrma Forel, 1916
Monocombus Mayr, 1855
Paraformica Forel, 1915

Cataglyphis, or desert ants,[2] is a genus of ant in the subfamily Formicinae. Its most famous species is C. bicolor, the Sahara Desert ant, which runs on hot sand to find insects that died of heat exhaustion, and can, like other several other Cataglyphis species, sustain body temperatures of up to 50 °C.[3] Cataglyphis is also the name of an autonomous rover[4] that won the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge[5] inspired by the navigation approaches used by desert ants.


Species of this genus are behaviourally, morphologically and physiologically adapted to dry and hot habitats.[6]

Navigational behaviour[edit]

In the Sahara, ants are living where there are no bushes or clumps of grass, and where tracks are covered by wind-blown sand in seconds. The midday sun is so hot that even the permanent residents, sand lizards and insects and a few birds, have to take shelter. But this is when, for not much more than an hour, it's safe for Cataglyphis to come out of their underground nests and forage. According to Wehner, they can withstand higher temperatures than any other insects.[citation needed] They pour out on to the sand and search for insects that have died of heat stress. Each ant dashes about in zigzag patterns, but as soon as one is lucky enough to find a tiny insect corpse, it has to get it back to the nest fast before it itself dies of the heat. It does not retrace the zig-zagging path of its outward journey; even if a scent-trail made this possible, such a route would be time-wasting. Instead, it runs in a straight line directly back to its nest-hole.[7]

On its outward journey, it zig-zags right and left. Every time it changes direction, it lifts its head and wheels around to take a bearing on the sun. In addition, it has to remember how far it went on each straight run. When it’s time to head for home, it has to sum all this data and come out with the precise direction needed. Some outward journeys take an ant a quarter of an hour, with sun-sightings every few seconds.[7]

In an experiment, individual ants were fitted with an apparatus, which blocked direct sight of the sun while giving a false impression of where the sun was, using a mirror. When these ants headed for home, they dashed off to a point in the desert displaced by just the amount that the mirror had shifted the sun's position.[7]


At least five different species of Cataglyphis occur in the Sahara desert, which may be considered the center of distribution for this genus.[8] Five species also occur in Israel.[9] Some species reach into southern Russia, southern Spain,[10] Greece,[citation needed]Yugoslavia, Hungary, the European part of Turkey, and the Aral-Caspian area near Tijanchan.[6]


Queen ants of the species C. cursor can produce female reproductive progeny (i.e. potential new queens or gynes) by parthenogenesis.[11][12] Parthenogenesis, in this case, involves, a process (automictic thelytoky) by which two haploid products of meiosis fuse to form a diploid zygote that develops into a gyne. Queens can also produce female worker ants by sexual reproduction involving fertilisation of eggs.



  1. ^ Bolton, B. (2014). "Cataglyphis". AntCat. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  2. ^ Steck, K.; Hansson, B. S.; Knaden, M. (2009). "Smells like home: Desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, use olfactory landmarks to pinpoint the nest". Frontiers in Zoology. 6: 5. doi:10.1186/1742-9994-6-5. PMC 2651142. PMID 19250516.
  3. ^ Shi, N. N.; Tsai, C.-C.; Camino, F.; Bernard, G. D.; Yu, N.; Wehner, R. (2015). "Keeping cool: Enhanced optical reflection and radiative heat dissipation in Saharan silver ants". Science. 349 (6245): 298–301. doi:10.1126/science.aab3564. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 26089358.
  4. ^ "NASA_Challenge". Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  5. ^ Hall, Loura (2016-09-08). "NASA Awards $750K in Sample Return Robot Challenge". Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  6. ^ a b Petrov, I.Z. (1986). "Distribution of species of the genus Cataglyphis Foerster, 1850 (Formicidae, Hymenoptera) in Yugoslavia" (PDF). Arh. biol. nauka. 38: 11–12.
  7. ^ a b c Attenborough, David (1990). The Trials Of Life. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 120–121. ISBN 0-316-05751-7.
  8. ^ Bernard, F. (1968): Les fourmis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) d'Europe occidentale et septentrionale.
  9. ^ Ionescu, A.; Eyer, P.-A. (2016). "Notes on Cataglyphis Foerster, 1850 of the bicolor species-group in Israel, with description of a new species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)". Israel Journal of Entomology. 46: 109–131. doi:10.5281/zenodo.221456.
  10. ^ Mangan, M. & Webb, B. (2012): Spontaneous formation of multiple routes in individual desert ants (Cataglyphis velox) Behavioral Ecology 23 (5): 944-954 Full HTML
  11. ^ Pearcy M, Aron S, Doums C, Keller L (2004). "Conditional use of sex and parthenogenesis for worker and queen production in ants". Science. 306 (5702): 1780–3. doi:10.1126/science.1105453. PMID 15576621.
  12. ^ Aron S, Timmermans I, Pearcy M (2011). "Ant queens adjust egg fertilization to benefit from both sexual and asexual reproduction". Biol. Lett. 7 (4): 571–3. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1189. PMC 3130223. PMID 21307046.

Further reading[edit]

  • Heusser, Daniel & Wehner, Rüdiger (2002): The visual centring response in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis. The Journal of Experimental Biology 205: 585-590. Full HTML - PDF

External links[edit]