Tiny glasses reveal praying mantises have a different kind of 3D vision

3D Vision In Praying Mantis

3D Vision In Praying Mantis

Each of our two eyes sees the world from a slightly different perspective - these are then overlaid into one image in our brains, the slight differences between the two images allowing for an instantaneous calculation of distance (hence, depth perception).

Other animals have stereo vision too, including monkeys, cats, horses, owls and toads, but the only insect to have it is the praying mantis. A team of scientists at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, wanted to see whether the 3D vision of praying mantis works in the same way as ours.

Insects see the world very differently than we do, but researchers from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom now say that the praying mantis possesses one important element of human vision.

Some of the same group of scientists had created a spectacle in 2016 by outfitting praying mantises with miniature 3D specs. Where mammals such as humans see in 3D based on the amount of light that reaches each of their separate eyes, mantises instead watch for movement, tracking motion in order to determine how far away something is.

The researchers put the mantises into an "insect 3D cinema", treating them to a movie of some prey buzzing around. The researchers showed the mantis images that wouldn't make any sense to a person: an object that moved up for one eye and down for the other. The mantis could not only see the prey, it also tried to catch it. As you might remember from the old red-and-blue 3D anaglyph images in magazines, humans can stereoscopically see still images just fine. But mantises only attack moving prey so their 3D doesn't need to work in still images. That allowed them to relay different images to the insect's eyes.

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A praying mantis looks down a tube wearing its new glasses.

This means that their depth perception only focuses on things that are changing, and it works brilliantly. They did so even when humans couldn't.

"In mantises it is probably created to answer the question 'is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?"

What's more, when researchers presented the mantis with 2D dot patterns, which are normally used to test human 3D vision, they found that the mantis was actually able to detect the movement while completely ignoring the still images. Researcher Jenny Read believes that this form of 3D vision can be used in robots with a lot less computing power than is now required. "Since insect brains are so tiny, their form of stereo vision can't require much computer processing", said Dr Ghaith Tarawneh at Newcastle University's school of engineering, who was also involved in the research.

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