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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence