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Scientists Fit Praying Mantis with Tiny Glasses to Learn About 3D Vision (VIDEO)

Apr 28, 2014 12:51 PM EDT

Scientists created miniature 3D glasses for praying mantises, the only invertebrates known to possess 3D vision, in order to compare it with vision in humans.

The research team claims the tiny spectacles - said to be the world's smallest - could explain how 3D vision evolved and potentially lead to advances in computer vision.

"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," Vivek Nityananda, a research associate at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, said in a press release.

Mantises are the only insect proven to possess stereopsis, or 3D vision, research leader Jennifer Read told The Huffington Post. Stereopsis is known to exist in macaques, cats, horses, sheep, rabbits, toads, and barn owls as well.

"Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency," Read said in the statement. "We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world."

The mantises (or mantids) were fitted with the miniscule 5-millimeter glasses using beeswax and then scientists observed their behavior to computer-generated 3D images displayed on a screen. The glasses fool the insect into misjudging depth, much like we are while watching 3D movies in theaters.

The spectacles are "small enough that they don't get in the mantid's way as it goes about its normal mantid business," Read told The Huffington Post. "As a result, the mantids seem quite happy wearing them and don't try to rub them off."

This research is the first of its kind since Samuel Rossel discovered the insect's 3D ability in 1983. Depending on how they react to the visual stimuli, the experiment will determine if mantids can see the moving object standing out in depth in a similar way to humans, potentially leading to revolutionary technology.

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