Praying Mantis Wears 'The World's Tiniest' 3D Glasses To Advance The Cause Of Research

By Gabrielle Jonas on April 29, 2014 1:19 PM EDT

This praying mantis is praying that the researchers at Newcastle take off those sunglasses as soon as humanly possible.
This praying mantis is praying that the researchers at Newcastle take off those sunglasses as soon as humanly possible.

"Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses." the poet Dorothy Parker once wrote in a poem called "News Item." That may be true for praying mantises as well: Judging how this insect looks wearing glasses, it's unlikely another praying mantis will find it attractive. The glasses are 3D glasses, which the researcher, Dr. Jenny Read from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in the U.K. afixed to the insect with beeswax, and said are the "world's tiniest pair of 3D glasses." Read is trying to understand 3D vision in the praying mantis, the only intverterbrate known to have this ability, and compare it with vision in humans. She says understanding how 3D vision evolved will lead to novel approaches in implementing 3D recognition and depth perception in computer vision and robotics.

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Read placed the mantises on rods in such a way that they couldn't wriggle free, then placed the miniscule 3D glasses on them. She then placed them in front of virtual 3D stimuli such as moving targets, trying to "fool them into misjudging depth," the same way human brains are fooled when watching a 3D movie. The experiment will determine if the insects can see the moving object using depth perception by observing their behavior as well as electrophysiological recordings. Her aim is to model neural algorithms that can be used in technology which would be simpler than the ones presently used for programming 3D vision into robots, while also shedding light on the evolution of 3D vision. After the experiments, she removed the beeswax and the glasses, before placing the bugs back in the insect room where they are fed and kept, according to a press release.

"Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency," said Dr. Read. Here's a video of the research. "We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world."

Praying mantises' vision may be similar to that of vertebrates, where disparities between the positions of an object's image in the two eyes are used to reveal the object's position, even when the object is camouflaged and not discernable by either eye individually. This is the first major research project investigating these mechanisms following the discovery made by Samuel Rossel in 1983 that praying mantises have 3D vision. Rossel conducted experiments by placing prisms over the eyes of praying mantises to create an optical illusion that food was within their range, thus triggering a strike from the mantises.


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