Desert ants are fascinating organisms for studying navigation because they inhabit an environment with few local cues but impressive distant visual cues such as tall mountains. Navigating back to the nest after foraging can be challenging with few local cues. Can insects use their panoramic view of the skyline to navigate?
The answer is yes. Paul Graham1 and Ken Cheng created an artificial skyline and let ants learn the direction to and from their nest to a feeder. Ants followed the directions indicated by the artificial skyline whether it was oriented in the training direction or rotated 150 degrees. In other experiments, they observed navigation when parts of the panorama were eliminated. Blocking nearby visual objects such as tall trees had less effect on navigation than altering the skyline. It makes sense that ants would use the skyline to navigate because it is the most fixed feature of their environment. That does not mean that local cues cannot also be used.
*Paul Graham and Ken Cheng. 2009. Ants use the panoramic skyline as a visual cue during navigation. Current Biology Vol 19 No 20 R935-7.