Insects may have good eyesight, study reports

A new study takes a look at insects.
By Joseph Scalise | Sep 12, 2017
A team of international researchers have found that insects are able to view the world at a much finer resolution than previously thought, according to a new studypublished in the journaleLife.

Human eyes have a large, single lens and densely packed photoreceptors that work to produce high-resolution images. In contrast, scientists have long believed that the compound eyes of insects -- which are made up of thousands of tiny lenses -- can only capture low-resolution composite images. However, the new study suggests bugs are capable of seeing in much more detail than past estimates guessed.

The researchers found this by using an updated understanding of compound eyes mechanics to build a model of a fruit fly's visual system. This revealed the optical setup is able to view the world in high-resolution and see in quite accurate detail.

Even so, this does not mean insects see in the same way as humans do. Their eyes do not change shape to keep objects in focus. Rather, they have photoreceptor cells behind each lens in their compound eyes that move in and out of focus as they take in light. These sensors switch on and off at an extremely fast rate and allows the flies to see more clearly.

Using a high-speed camera, the team watched this process and discovered fruit flies generate high-resolution images by combining photoreceptor twitching with natural rapid eye and head movements, known as saccadic bursts.

"Our results show that by adapting the way photoreceptor cells sample light information to saccadic eye movements and gaze fixations, evolution works towards optimizing the visual perception of animals," explained lead author Mikko Juusola, Professor of Systems Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, according toUPI.

This new discovery sheds new light on eyesight and challenges many held beliefs about insect biology.

"By using electrophysiological, optical and behavioural assays with mathematical modelling we have demonstrated that fruit flies (Drosophila) have much better vision than scientists have believed for the past 100 years," added Juusola, in a statement.

The team plans to follow up on their study by analyzing the compound eyes of other insects and looking at the eye makeup in certain vertebrates as well.

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