New Type Of 3D Vision In Praying Mantis Discovered

Dr. Vivek Nitanyanda holds aloft a praying mantis fitted with miniature 3D glasses in a research facility at Newcastle University

Dr. Vivek Nitanyanda holds aloft a praying mantis fitted with miniature 3D glasses in a research facility at Newcastle University

3D or stereo vision helps us work out the distances to the things we see. 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.

Putting 3D glasses on praying mantises has given researchers insights into the unusual stereo vision of the insects. During their research, they referred to praying mantis that are insects that can, along with humans and other animals, perceive three-dimensional objects and structures. The mantis could not only see the prey, it also tried to catch it.

"We found mantises don't bother about the details of the picture, but just look for places where the picture is changing", he said in a video explaining the experiment.

In their insect 3D cinema, they could show the mantis a movie of tasty prey, apparently hovering right in front of the mantis. It can see in 3D despite having a comparatively tiny brain. 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. While these creatures have 3D vision, the way they get there is vastly different than the vertebrate method.

This was the case even when each eye looked at two completely different images - an ability humans don't share.


The good news is that if you've ever had a nightmare about finding yourself face-to-face with a giant praying mantis (we've all been there), we now know the best way to trick this particular monster. The results were fascinating: the mantises only responded to videos that showed their prey moving, and weren't fooled by still images of other bugs and creepy crawlies.

'Mantises only attack moving prey, so their 3D doesn't need to work in still images, ' said Vivek Nityananda of Newcastle University, one of the authors of a study published in the journal Current Biology.

They eat small insects or their siblings when young and when they grow larger, have been known to prey on small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and even rodents. In other words, mantises' depth perception only focuses on objects or things that are changing. "In mantises, it is probably created to answer the question, 'Is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?'"

"Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo", said Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, of Newcastle's engineering department. The stereo algorithms needed to interpret a 3-D world can guzzle computing power.

The mantis is the only insect known to have stereo vision, but given its tiny brain, scientists have long suspected it must involve a simpler process.

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