Sahara Desert ant

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Sahara Desert ant
Cataglyphis bicolor casent0104612 profile 1.jpg
C. bicolor worker
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Superfamily: Vespoidea
Family: Formicidae
Genus: Cataglyphis
Species: C. bicolor
Binomial name
Cataglyphis bicolor
Fabricius, 1793

The Sahara Desert ant (Cataglyphis bicolor) is a desert-dwelling ant of the genus Cataglyphis. It inhabits the Sahara Desert and is one of the most heat tolerant animals known to date. However, there are at least four other species of Cataglyphis living in the Sahara desert,[1] for example C. bombycina, C. savignyi, C. mauritanicus and C. fortis.[2]


Sahara desert ants are scavengers. They forage for the corpses of insects and other arthropods which have succumbed to the heat stress of their desert environment.[citation needed]

While no known land animal can live permanently at a temperature over 50°C, Sahara desert ants can sustain a body temperature well above 50 °C (122°F) with surface temperatures of up to 70 °C (178°F). Despite this, if out in the open, they must keep moving or else they will fry.[citation needed]

Navigation skills and internal pedometer[edit]

Measuring the sun's angle[edit]

This ant ventures far from its burrow in the Sahara Desert, which has almost no identifiable features. While venturing out it periodically takes measurements of its angle in respect to the Sun. By doing this the ant can venture far from its nest in search of food. Because of the blistering heat, it can only do this for about 3–5 minutes/day (the hottest time of the day, when all its predators are in hiding from the sun). When the ant finds a dead insect it then looks at the sun and because of its periodic references to the sun's angle it knows exactly what the shortest route back to the nest is. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology have also verified that desert microhabitats have unique odour signatures that can guide the ants back to the nest.[3]

This skill, which has also been observed in the behavior of foraging honey bees, is elemental to the survival of this species of ant under the harsh conditions in which it lives. This behavior allows Cataglyphis to travel farther from its nest than any other creature that lives in the Sahara, with respect to size.[citation needed]


The ant appears to use an internal pedometer to count its steps in a harsh environment where odors quickly vanish, enabling it to "count back" to its nest.[4] When stilts were glued on to the ants legs, they overshot the distance of their nests, while ants with cut legs traveled short of their nest. It's suspected that while the ants unliely have the brainpower to literally count steps, they are somehow doing it intuitively. [5]


  1. ^ Petrov, I. Z. (1986). "Distribution of species of the genus Cataglyphis Foerster, 1850 (Formicidae, Hymenoptera) in Yugoslavia" (PDF). Arhiv Bioloskih Nauka. 38: 11–12. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ 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 2651142Freely accessible. PMID 19250516. 
  4. ^ Khamsi, Roxanne (29 June 2006). "Ants use pedometers to find home". New Scientist. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  5. ^ Wittlinger, Matthias; Wehner, Rüdiger; Wolf, Harald (2007-01-15). "The desert ant odometer: a stride integrator that accounts for stride length and walking speed". Journal of Experimental Biology. 210 (2): 198–207. doi:10.1242/jeb.02657. ISSN 0022-0949. PMID 17210957. 

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