The praying mantis may be known for its long legs, but its eyes may shed light on something more high tech: 3D vision.
In a new study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University, praying mantises were given tiny pairs of 3D glasses to see if they could be tricked by 3D images, the same way humans sometimes are when watching 3D films. The findings, which have yet to be published, may help determine whether the invertebrates can recognize 3D imagery the way humans do.
“This is a really exciting project to be working on,” Vivek Nityananda, a professor at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience and one of the investigators involved in the study, said in a statement. “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."
For the study, researchers created a tiny pair of 3D glasses that they attached to the insects with beeswax. The praying mantises were placed in front of a computer monitor that generated 3D images similar in a manner similar to how 3D movies are displayed in theaters to fool the human brain into thinking an image has depth.
“We can do this by fooling them into misjudging depth, in the same way that our brains are fooled when we watch a 3D movie,” Nityananda said.
For praying mantises, this ability may help them determine the position of potential prey, even when the prey is camouflaged and invisible to each individual eye. If this is the case, then the praying mantis would be one of the first known invertebrates to have developed 3D visual processing that's similar to that of vertebrates like humans.
The study is the first major research project involving the praying mantis and 3D vision since Samuel Rossel discovered in 1983 that the insects have the ability to see in 3D. Roussel uncovered this phenomenon after placing prisms over their eyes to create the optical illusion that an object was within the insect’s range, which successfully triggered them to strike.
“Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency,” Jenny Read, a professor at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and the study's lead author, said.