This praying mantis needs a convertible and a boy toy. Not only is she one of many at Newcastle University outfitted with a pair of custom specs, she’s helping scientists understand how her vision works.
The information could ultimately lead to new kinds of computer algorithms that give depth perception to robots and cameras.
Most of what scientists know about vision in the animal kingdom comes from studying vertebrates, like mammals, birds and reptiles.
But back in the 1980s, Samuel Rossel, a scientist at the University of Zurich, published a study about binocular vision in praying mantises. But his results were limited because he used prisms and occluders, which provided only a small set of images.
A team from Newcastle University in the UK wanted to improve upon those results.
“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,” the study’s lead research Jenny Read said in a press release.
Read and her team designed an insect cinema and then fitted mantises with tiny glasses similar to the old-school ones used for 3-D movies. For human eyes, those glasses had one blue lens and one red lens. But mantises see green light much better than red and so the scientists made glasses for the insects with one green lens and one blue lens.
No bugs were harmed in the viewing of these movies, either, as the glasses were affixed to the bugs’ heads with beeswax. (Is that how Samuel L. Jackson did it in the Matrix?)
Next, the insects were set up in the cinema with a diet Coke and large popcorn (just kidding) and made to watch a screen with video that simulated bug movement.
When the video was shown in 2-D, the mantises didn’t react. But when the scientists played video in 3-D, the mantises attacked. Watch it below.
“We definitively demonstrated 3-D vision or stereopsis in mantises and also showed that this technique can be effectively used to deliver virtual 3-D stimuli to insects,” said team member and sensory biologist Vivek Nityananda in a press release.
We first reported on this team’s initial progress back in 2014, when they had just set up the experiment and didn’t have many results yet.
Now they do and we’ll probably be hearing from them again as they continue their research. Maybe one day we’ll see a mantis-like robot with 3-D vision.