Some scientists put tiny 3D glasses on mantises

13 Jan 2016

A mantis wearing 3D glasses. Image via Newcastle University.

When scientific research produces a photo this adorable and downright bizarre, the reasons behind the research somehow seem less important.

However, there actually is a solid scientific reason why researchers from Newcastle University decided to put tiny 3D glasses on mantises.

As well as proving that mantises do have 3D vision, the research, which was published in Scientific Reports, could also help improve visual perception in robots.

We have known since the ‘80s that mantises had 3D vision, however, the special 3D glasses for insects that the Newcastle University team produced meant that the insects could be shown any images, which is a first, and opened up a new avenue for research.

‘Old-school’ 3D glasses are best

Mantis wearing 3D glasses

A mantis during the experiment

‘Old-school’ 3D glasses, with the red and blue lenses, were what the researchers worked off to create the special mini 3D glasses for the mantises but, because red light is poorly visible to mantises, their special custom-made glasses had blue and green lenses instead.

Professor of Vision Science Jenny Read, who led the study, explained: “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.

“Better understanding of their simpler processing systems helps us understand how 3D vision evolved, and could lead to possible new algorithms for 3D depth perception in computers.”

During the experiment, the mantises, whose tiny glasses were attached to them using beeswax, were shown short videos of simulated bugs moving around a computer screen.

When the bugs were shown in 2D the mantises didn’t react, but when they were shown in 3D the insects struck out at them, showing that they do have 3D vision.

Dr Vivek Nityananda, sensory biologist at Newcastle University and part of the research team, added: “We definitively demonstrated 3D vision or stereopsis in mantises and also showed that this technique can be effectively used to deliver virtual 3D stimuli to insects.”

The Newcastle University team now plans to continue its research to better understand how human vision evolved and to develop new ways of adding 3D technology to computers and robots.

Gigglebit is’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech.

All images via Newcastle University

Brigid O Gorman is a former sub-editor of Silicon Republic.