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A case of mental time travel in ant-following birds?


  • Corina J. Logan
  • Sean O'Donnell
  • Nicola S. Clayton


Army ant-following birds that inspect bivouacs (temporary nests of nomadic army ants) might provide a novel candidate for studying elements of mental time travel in animals, namely the ability to 1) remember the time and place of specific past events and 2) to use this memory to plan for future actions. Army ant colonies are a rich but unpredictable resource: Army ants do not raid every day, and colonies cycle through periods of high and low raid activity. Birds check bivouacs in the afternoon after feeding on insects that flee the army ant raids and then return to the bivouac the next morning to observe ant activity. If the ants are raiding, the birds will follow the army ants to the front of the raid and begin feeding; if not, the birds must move on to another army ant colony. Do ant-following birds check bivouacs to encode the location in their memory, thereby allowing them to return the next morning to feed again? Ant-following birds may track multiple army ant colonies through space and time to ensure a daily meal on an otherwise scattered and unpredictable resource. We suggest further research to test this hypothesis and provide a framework for investigating whether or not cognitive processes involved in mental time travel play a role in bivouac-checking behavior observed in the field. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Corina J. Logan & Sean O'Donnell & Nicola S. Clayton, 2011. "A case of mental time travel in ant-following birds?," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(6), pages 1149-1153.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:6:p:1149-1153

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