3D vision discovered in praying mantis using tiny glasses


To investigate how the praying mantis 3D vision works and differs from our own, the British researchers devised special, tiny 3D glasses that were temporarily glued to the heads of mantises with beeswax. The team has been conducting this research for a few years, but only recently has the nature of praying mantis vision come into focus.

Like humans, praying mantises have 3D or stereo vision - it's what helps us work out how far away things are.

Using the 3D glasses to manipulate what the praying mantises saw through each eye, even when the images going to the insects' two eyes were different, they could still spot the movement, which is something even humans struggle to do.

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. Other animals include monkeys, cats, horses, owls and toads, but the only insect known to have stereo vision is the praying mantis. While bees and ants and flies are all able to see a wide angle on the world thanks to their compound eyes, they're unable to see in 3D, which means that they have no depth perception.

According to the team at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, their findings on the insects' unique form of "stereo" sight, in which two views are merged to create a single image, could lead to important advances in robotics. 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. While these creatures have 3D vision, the way they get there is vastly different than the vertebrate method.

Basically, the researchers played a movie of tasty prey hovering right in front of the mantis - an illusion so realistic that the mantises tried to catch it with their famous claws. As you might remember from the old red-and-blue 3D anaglyph images in magazines, humans can stereoscopically see still images just fine.

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Instead, their 3D vision only helps them tell the difference between moving and stationary images.

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

Because human vision seems to try to correlate the image contrast from each eye's viewpoint, flipping the contrast in one of them inevitably thwarts human depth perception, Read said.

A Newcastle University engineering student developed an electronic mantis arm which mimics the distinct striking action of the insect.

Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, who worked on the research, said: "Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo". "Since insect brains are so tiny, their form of stereo vision can't require much computer processing".

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