Saturday, December 29, 2012

Newsflash: Dragonflies Capable of Primate-Level Cognition.

"Insect" and "complex" rarely appear in the same sentence.  Generally, we think of them as simple, primitive animals that largely exist to be eaten by other animals or squished by primate boots. No matter how often we call ants "eusocial," we can't help but get a little bothered when they come to share our picnic. 

But are they really that much lower than us? The ant has long been hailed for its mechanical work ethic. Despite how much some of us loathe fleas and roaches, they are among the world's finest survivors. The very progression and reproduction rate of humanity has been compared to that of rodents, viruses, and insects. It should be no surprise that we use them so much as examples, especially since some insects have brains on par with primates. Yes, the Insect Apocalypse is nigh.

At the very least, it has been found that dragonflies are capable of something called "selective attention." Basically, a dragonfly can hone in on one thing while there are a million things going on around it. Every other insect has ADD by comparison. Full article below:

"By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Published: 12/27/2012 07:03 PM EST on LiveScience

Dragonflies lack humans' big brains, but they still get the job done, according to new research that suggests that these insects have brain cells capable of feats previously seen only in primates.

Specifically, the dragonflies can screen out useless visual information to focus on a target, a process called selective attention. The new study, published Dec. 20 in the journal Current Biology, is the first to find brain cells devoted to selective attention in an invertebrate animal.
Selective attention is crucial for responding to one stimulus among the dozens of distractions that clamor for notice at any given time, said Steven Wiederman of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"Imagine a tennis player having to pick out a small ball from the crowd when it's traveling at almost 200 kilometers an hour," Wiederman said in a statement. "You need selective attention in order to hit that ball back into play."

But little is known about how the brain locks onto its targets and ignores all else. To find out, Wiederman, who is from the university's Center for Neuroscience Research, and his colleague David O'Carroll turned to an unlikely animal. The researchers have long studied insect vision, and the dragonfly turns out to be quite adept in that arena. [Photos: Dew-Covered Dragonflies & Other Sparkling Insects]
"The dragonfly hunts for other insects, and these might be part of a swarm — they're all tiny moving objects," Wiederman said. "Once the dragonfly has selected a target, its neuron activity filters out all other potential prey. The dragonfly then swoops in on its prey — they get it right 97 percent of the time."

Using a glass probe with a tip 1,500 times smaller than a human hair, the researchers measured the neuronal activity that enables such amazing aerial hunting. A similar process is at work in the primate brain, O'Carroll said in a statement, but researchers weren't expecting to see the same thing in an insect that evolved 325 million years ago.

"We believe our work will appeal to neuroscientists and engineers alike," O'Carroll said. "For example, it could be used as a model system for robotic vision. Because the insect brain is simple and accessible, future work may allow us to fully understand the underlying network of neurons and copy it into intelligent robots."" - Full article here.

Bogleech has been going on and on about the eventual total domination of the human race by insects. I'm starting to think he was onto something.

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