Look out! A great step for locust-kind

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Locusts watch where they walk using a visual guidance system similar to that of humans, scientists have learned.

In a series of experiments, researchers observed the insects climbing a ladder while a high speed camera caught every stumble and missed step.

The locusts' task was made more difficult by having one eye painted over, or having their antennae or front leg sensors removed.

The scientists also watched what happened when a rung of the ladder was removed mid-step.

They discovered that, rather than "feeling" their way, the insects relied on vision to pinpoint every foothold.

Humans and other mammals do much the same thing, though in a more complex fashion.

The locusts displayed a level visual brain processing previously thought to be too sophisticated for insects, according to the scientists.

Dr Jeremy Niven, from Cambridge University, who led the study reported in the journal Current Biology, said: "Visually guided limb control is often thought to be complicated and require sophisticated computations because you have to place your limb in a position you can only see, not touch.

"The visual control of limb placement in the locusts suggests that this can be achieved by much smaller-brained insects. It's another example of insects performing a behaviour we previously thought was restricted to relatively big-brained animals with sophisticated motor control, such as humans, monkeys or octopuses."

The study revealed some key differences between the way locusts and humans walk.

Having no binocular vision, the insects rely on visual input from a single eye to control leg movements on that side of their body.

Unlike humans and other mammals, such as cats, locusts also commit themselves to a particular foothold before lifting a leg. If something changes mid-step, they miss their target.

In contrast, a human will be watching for unexpected hazards while taking a step and can make adjustments if necessary.

It was a long fascination with insect vision that led Dr Niven to investigate locust ladder walking.

"Most studies of insect vision have concentrated on insects using vision during flight because insects such as bees and flies do spend a lot of time flying," he said.

"Other insects, such as stick insects, crickets and cockroaches, spend a lot of time walking, but they all have relatively small eyes and long antennae to 'feel' their way through the environment.

"Locusts spend time both walking and flying and have short antennae and large eyes. This started us thinking about whether it was possible for locusts to use vision to find footholds."

He added: "The study really emphasises how insects can achieve similar results to vertebrates like humans or cats with few neurons, probably by simpler mechanisms."

Suggested Topics
Sport
footballLIVE: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
News
newsNew images splice vintage WWII photos with modern-day setting
Arts and Entertainment
The star dances on a balcony in the video
music
News
Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen learns that Peeta is still alive in Mockingjay Part 1
peopleListen to the actress sing in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines