Scientists Test Praying Mantis Vision Using Tiny 3D Glasses
April 28, 2014

Scientists Test Praying Mantis Vision Using Tiny 3D Glasses

[ Watch the Video: Computation of 3D Vision In Praying Mantises ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Our ability to see in three dimensions is based on disparities in our eyes between the locations of an object’s image. Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom are working to understand if this same mechanism is taking place inside praying mantises – the only invertebrate known to see in 3D.

“Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency. We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world,” said project researcher Jenny Read, a vision scientist at Newcastle University.

If the researchers were to find a similar vision system in mantises, it would mean that it had evolved independently from the system that arose in vertebrates.

“This is a really exciting project to be working on,” said Vivek Nityananda, a neuroscientist at the university. “So much is still waiting to be discovered in this system. If we find that the way mantises process 3D vision is very different to the way humans do it, then that could open up all kinds of possibilities to create much simpler algorithms for programming 3D vision into robots."

To study the insects’ vision, researchers first created the world’s tiniest 3-D glasses, which were attached to the mantis head using beeswax. After the glasses were attached, the study insects were placed in front of a computer monitor that generates 3-D circles in the same way used to project 3-D movies.

“The circles… are slightly separated by a gap and each eye, when the glasses are on, is seeing a different circle,” Nityananda said in a video released by the university. “Because the circles are slightly further apart and moved apart, we interpret that as an object that’s actually closer to us and that’s what we predict the mantis will also be seeing.”

“(We) try and kind of fool them into making errors in judgment about depth, which would then prove to us that they are actually judging 3-D,” he added.

The UK researchers said they ultimately want to determine if mantids can perceive a three-dimensional moving object in a similar way to primate.

“We should be then able to simulate a target that’s actually closer to the mantis than it really is and elicit a strike from the mantis,” Nityananda said.

The project will be using behavioral observations and electrophysiological recordings to assist in the modeling of neural algorithms that may ultimately be used for robotics technology while simultaneously providing new details on the evolution of 3D vision.

The new study is being conducted after 19 new species of praying mantis were recently described in a report published in March by the journal Zookeys. Found in Central and South America, many of the newly described species were found in specimen collections that dated back 50 years or more.

“Based on this study, we can predict that mantis groups with similar habitat specialization in Africa, Asia and Australia will also be far more diverse than what is currently known,” said study author Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Many of these groups have never been studied other than by the scientists that originally described some of the species, which in some cases is more than 100 years ago. This is exciting because enormous potential exists for advancing our understanding of praying mantis diversity just by looking within our existing museum collections and conducting a few field expeditions.”