Praying mantises have been given tiny 3D glasses

2_9_Praying mantis tube

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.

Who would've thought praying mantises had so much to teach us. The insect can not see a still image in 3D; its stereo vision works only with moving objects. The new study involved scientists at the Newcastle University creating a customised pair of 3D glasses that were temporarily glued on to the praying mantis with beeswax.

This makes mantis 3D vision very robust. Of course, there's still plenty of work to do before we understand how to implement mantis vision as a computer algorithm. "An object moving upward in the left eye can not be the same thing as an object moving downward in the right eye", as Nityananda and his colleagues wrote in discussing their findings, which were published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Unique as they are to the insect world, as it turns out, the praying mantis is also unique to other creatures with stereo vision because researchers have found that their stereo vision works quite differently from the rest. Did their brains process visual information in the same way as humans and other vertebrates, or was it using a totally different mechanism to do so?

The team used two types of movie - the first type was a clip of delicious moving insect prey hovering right in front of the mantis. Like those you might wear to see a 3D movie, these glasses are designed so that each eye sees slightly different things on a 2D screen, allowing the image to pop out in three dimensions.

The praying mantises, it turned out, did not suffer from the same problem.

2_9_Praying mantis 3D glasses
In-specs: the critters wearing 3D glasses!

Particularly interesting is just how far the mantises can push this focus. That was telling us praying mantises do not use correlation for their stereovision - at least not the correlation of image contrast.

The scientists then took it a step further. Your brain would conclude those are not the same object, but the mantis still perceived these as a single prey item that was within its reach.

"Clearly they were able to match up the moving target even though the dot pattern didn't match at all - and that's something that humans can't do", Read said. If there is a disparity between the image details, the result is incomprehensible.

Basically, they're looking for only things that move; the rest of the picture's little touches don't really matter.

"Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo", says Ghaith Tarawneh, co-author of the study. 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. As their hunting relies heavily on vision, mantises are primarily active during the day.

He added in a statement: "This is a completely new form of 3-D vision as it is based on change over time instead of static images..."

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