praying mantis 2
3-D glasses, just like at 'Star Wars!'



Hardcore Praying Mantises Wore 3-D Glasses To Advance Science

These praying mantises may look like they’re about to drop the hottest mixtape of the year, but there’s a lot more to these insects in fab shades than meets the eye. Newcastle University scientist, Jenny Read, conducted a study with praying mantises to find out if they can see in stereopsis, more commonly known as binocular vision; it’s the ability to perceive depth and view our world in 3-D, just like humans.

Why is it so important that insects see the way we do? According to Simon Laughlin, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, “from the point of view of an insect, the advantage of binocular vision is that it gives you an accurate determination of depth almost instantaneously.” Not only would this type of vision explain the way they hunt and protect themselves, but it would make them the only invertebrate with this visual ability.

“The idea seemed odd, since insect eyes evolved independently from people and stereopsis was assumed to be a characteristic of mammals with forward-facing eyes,” National Geographic reported.


Read and her fellow Newcastle colleagues created a tiny makeshift theater, for a teeny tiny audience of African praying mantises. They needed to create a miniature pair of 3-D glasses for their insect participants. Obviously they couldn’t just pass out 3-D glasses to the insects, so the team had to get a little creative. The idea was to replicate something similar to those retro red and blue 3-D glasses, like the ones you get at a Michael Bay movie. They were able to attach the lenses, or prisms, to an insect’s forehead using a combination of beeswax and resin. The Newcastle team used green and blue lenses instead of the typical red and blue colors, because mantises’ aren’t able to pick up the color red as well.

Praying mantises usually capture their prey upside down, which is how they were placed to view Read’s entertainment feature. What ended up playing was really computer simulated discs that looked how their natural prey would act in the wild. It’s no Tarantino flick, but it’ll do. The most crucial moment of the study was if the mantises would lunge at their 3-D visualized prey once they appeared to be 0.8 inches in front of them, which is exactly how they reacted.


Now that Read and her team have concluded that praying mantises can see in 3-D, the floodgates for further research have opened. Scientists now have more of a reason than ever to explore the nervous system of these insects, because there might be a chance that they could replicate it. The nervous system of a praying mantis is much simpler than a human’s, meaning it would be a lot easier to break down how their visual perception works and possibly apply it to a computer system or robot in the future. Science is so cool.

Stay tuned to Milk for more scientific discoveries.

Images via National Geographic and Newcastle University.

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