Winner of the Association of American Publishers PROSE Award for Excellence in Biological and Life Sciences
A world-renowned researcher of animal behavior reveals the extraordinary orienteering skills of desert ants, offering a thrilling account of the sophisticated ways insects function in their natural environments.
Cataglyphis desert ants are agile ultrarunners who can tolerate near-lethal temperatures when they forage in the hot midday sun. But it is their remarkable navigational abilities that make these ants so fascinating to study. Whether in the Sahara or its ecological equivalents in the Namib Desert and Australian Outback, the Cataglyphis navigators can set out foraging across vast expanses of desert terrain in search of prey, and then find the shortest way home. For almost half a century, Rüdiger Wehner and his collaborators have devised elegant experiments to unmask how they do it.
Through a lively and lucid narrative, Desert Navigator offers a firsthand look at the extraordinary navigational skills of these charismatic desert dwellers and the experiments that revealed how they strategize and solve complex problems. Wehner and his team discovered that these insect navigators use visual cues in the sky that humans are unable to see, the Earth’s magnetic field, wind direction, a step counter, and panoramic “snapshots” of landmarks, among other resources. The ants combine all of this information to steer an optimal course. At any given time during their long journey, they know exactly where to go. It is no wonder these nimble and versatile creatures have become models in the study of animal navigation.
Desert Navigator brings to light the marvelous capacity and complexity found in these remarkable insects and shows us how mini brains can solve mega tasks.
Rüdiger Wehner’s Desert Navigator is destined to be a classic in entomology and behavioral biology. It is through an extraordinary series of observations and experiments that we have the first effective look into the mind of ants.
Wehner’s research has been highly influential in human spatial cognition, and we are lucky to have this rich and fascinating account.
This book is a masterpiece par excellence! Superb science, eloquently and engagingly written, and beautifully illustrated.
This sumptuously produced book is a triumph both of natural history and of science…Understanding how this wonderful eusocial insect can accomplish its apparently miraculous feats of navigation has required imagination, intelligence and decades of disciplined application. Here, in one place, we can at last savor the full glory of this remarkable achievement.
[A] grand book…You will end the book as a fan of Cataglyphis.
Rarely do scientists write such broad and beautiful syntheses. The quality of the scholarship and the writing found in this book is truly outstanding. Indeed, it is a breathtaking piece of work.
This is a marvelous book that no one could have written but Rüdiger Wehner. It is simply excellent.
Beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated…a sumptuous and highly personal account of how [Wehner] and his many collaborators unravelled the navigational ‘toolkit’ of his beloved ‘cataglyphs.’…A scientific tour de force, and a work of exceptional scholarship…Will certainly become a go-to bible for everyone in the field of animal navigation.
This title joins what is becoming an illustrious line-up of in-depth books on ants published by Harvard University Press. I praise them unreservedly for the lavish production values they have heaped upon it. Desert Navigator is a myrmecological masterpiece and a fitting milestone in Wehner’s long and successful research career. If you have any interest in ants, insect behavior, or animal navigation you absolutely do not want to skip this astonishing book.
Through a lively and lucid narrative, Desert Navigator offers a firsthand look at the extraordinary skills of these charismatic desert dwellers.
I cannot find another book where the subject of insect navigation is so elegantly treated.
- 2021, Winner of the PROSE Awards
- 400 pages
- 7-1/2 x 9-1/8 inches
- Belknap Press
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