Predatory Dragonflies Can Predict Path of Their Flying Prey | Biology

According to new research published in the journal eLife, the dragonfly brain can perform visual tasks that were previously associated only with mammals.

Wiederman et al have shown how a dragonfly’s brain anticipates the movement of its prey. Image credit: Komkrich Srigoson.

“Until now, scientists have primarily considered the capabilities of mammals, such as humans, for investigating how animals can predict where a moving object will be in the near future,” said lead author Dr. Steven Wiederman, from the University of Adelaide.

“Understandably, mammals in many ways are more complex organisms than insects, but with each discovery we’re finding that dragonflies have keen visual and neural processes that could be ideal for translating into technological advances.”

Dr. Wiederman and co-authors were able to record specific target-detecting neurons, called Small Target Motion Detector (STMD) neurons, in the brain of the tau emerald (Hemicordulia tau), a species of dragonfly found in Australia.

These neurons make it possible to focus on a small object that moves over a complex background, similarly to how humans can track and catch a ball, even when that ball is moving against the backdrop of a cheering crowd.

The dragonfly STMD neurons can make a selection of a single target from the mass of visual information that the brain receives, such as the motion of another insect, and then predict its direction and future location,”

“The dragonfly, like humans, makes this assessment based on the path along which the object moves,” said senior author Professor David O’Carroll, of Lund University.

“In other words, the dragonfly does something very similar to what we do when we track a ball in motion. Despite major differences in the complexity of the brain, evolution has led to the insect using its brain for advanced visual processes that are usually only considered in mammals.”

The STMD neurons increased their responses in a small ‘focus’ area…

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