Scientists Put 3D Glasses on Praying Mantises To Test Depth Perception

Scientists used 3D glasses to study how mantises process visual stimuli

So far, praying mantis vision sounds like it works on the same principle as that of human's.

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). They gathered their findings with the help of a pair of tiny 3D glasses they outfitted onto a praying mantis.

This so-called 3D vision - also known as stereopsis - is how creatures with binocular vision produce depth perception when they're taking in the world. During their research, they referred to praying mantis that are insects that can, along with humans and other animals, perceive three-dimensional objects and structures.

Publishing their latest research in Current Biology, the Newcastle University team have discovered that mantis 3D vision works differently from all previously known forms of biological 3D vision.

'We found mantises don't bother about the details of the picture, but just look for places where the picture is changing, ' he said in a video explaining the experiment. The insect can not see a still image in 3D; its stereo vision works only with moving objects.

To test this, the team created special, tiny 3-D glasses out of blue and green-colored filters, and used beeswax to fit them to 10 adult insects.

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It is possible that 3D vision in mantises is closer to that of vertebrates, where disparities between the positions of an object's image in the two eyes can be detected and used to reveal the object's position, even when the object is camouflaged and is invisible in either eye individually. The results were fascinating: the mantises only responded to videos that showed their prey moving, and weren't fooled by still images of other bugs and creepy crawlies. They did so even when humans couldn't.

"Mantises only attack moving prey, so their 3D doesn't need to work in still images, " said behavioural ecologist Vivek Nityananda, one of the authors of the study.

"This is a completely new form of 3D vision, as it is based on change over time instead of static images".

Mantises have two grasping, spiked forelegs or raptorial legs in which prey items are caught and held securely.

"Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo", said Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, of Newcastle's engineering department. "This means it could find useful applications in low-power autonomous robots".

Because insects have such tiny brains, this information could help figure out how to develop computer vision that requires relatively little computing power, the researchers said.

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