Take Three Guesses Why This Praying Mantis Is Wearing 3D Glasses…

Hint: It’s not to watch a rerelease of Avatar at the local IMAX…

By putting special 3D glasses on praying mantises, researchers have learned a lot about how these unique creatures perceive objects in three dimensions. Scientists now understand that the insects utilize an unusual technique for seeing in 3D that’s completely different from the way human beings do…

Check it out per Live Science:

Stereo vision, also called stereopsis, enables some animals — including humans and mantises — to perceive how far away they are from objects. Slight differences in the images of what they see are relayed to the brain and processed into a single image. Those subtle variations in the two original views help the brain pinpoint the object’s location in three dimensions, the scientists wrote in the study.    

By fitting 3D glasses temporarily to mantises’ eyes with beeswax and showing them 3D footage, researchers learned that mantises would respond to 3D video of prey insects by trying to catch them. To better understand how this stereo vision worked, they tested their tiny subjects using vision tests typically given to people.

When people and most other animals use stereopsis, they’re comparing the brightness of the two images seen separately by their eyes, in order to visualize 3D space. The mantises, however, are doing something very different: They’re focusing on where the brightness is actively changing between the two images, which tells them the distance to their target object even when it is camouflaged against a similar background texture, the study authors reported.

“This is a completely new form of 3D vision, as it is based on change over time instead of static images,” the study’s lead author, Vivek Nityananda, a behavioral ecologist at Newcastle University in the U.K., said in a statement.

“In mantises, it is probably designed to answer the question, ‘Is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?'” Nityananda added.

The study’s findings suggest that mantises probably can’t see in 3D when looking at static images. However, this technique does allow mantises to perform better than humans at detecting the distance to a moving object under certain circumstances, such as when there was a significant difference in brightness between the right image and the left one, according to the study.

We knew these little kung-fu masters weren’t all work and no play! Seriously though, who doesn’t like watching a 3D movie from time to time?

What’s your favorite insect and why?