3D Vision in the Praying Mantis


With 1-7 June being Medical Research Week, I wanted to share with you something quite interesting.

A new research programme at the University of Newcastle in UK aims to understand 3D vision in the praying mantis, the only invertebrate known to have this ability, and compare it with vision in humans.

Analysing how mantises see in three dimensions could give us clues about how 3D vision evolved and lead to novel approaches in implementing 3D recognition and depth perception in computer vision and robotics.

The team, led by Dr Jenny Read from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, has been funded by a £1M Research Leadership Award by the Leverhulme Trust to characterise the mechanisms of 3D vision in mantises and how these mechanisms can be applied in science and industry.

Dr Read said: “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.”

Dr Vivek Nityananda, Newcastle University Institute of Neuroscience is one of the investigators involved in the study. He said: “This is a really exciting project to be working on. So much is still waiting to be discovered in this system. 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.”

It is also possible that 3D vision in mantises is closer to that of vertebrates, where disparities between the positions of an object’s image in the two eyes can be detected and used to reveal the object’s position, even when the object is camouflaged and thus invisible in either eye individually. This would mean that mantises have independently evolved similar 3D processing to vertebrates – a fascinating insight into the evolution of 3D vision.

A key component of the research entails presenting virtual 3D stimuli, such as moving targets within the visual field of the mantis. As a first approach, the researchers are attaching a pair of 3D glasses – the world’s tiniest – with beeswax to the mantis, and placing it in front of computer-generated images, presented on computer monitors.  After the experiments, the scientists remove the beeswax and the glasses, and place the mantises back in the insect room where they are fed and maintained.