Cornell University researchers have discovered that, unlike insects that wave their “feelers” around to acquire information, tiger beetles rigidly hold their antennae directly in front of them to mechanically sense their environments and avoid obstacles while running, according to a study published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The findings raise questions about strategies used by other fast animals, such as birds of prey and some fish, to sense their environments when speed blinds. The research also has implications for autonomous vehicles that could use fixed antennae to detect obstacles.
“For an insect with really good vision that is active in the daytime normally, you would think it would not rely on antennae for sensing its environment,” said Cole Gilbert, Cornell professor of entomology and the paper’s senior author. Daniel Zurek, a postdoctoral researcher in Gilbert’s lab, is the paper’s first author.
“It has evolved important mechano-sensing behavior while running because it runs so fast,” Gilbert added.
In an earlier paper, Gilbert reported that tiger beetles run so fast, their eyes cannot capture enough light to form images of their prey. Therefore, the insects stop for just milliseconds to relocate prey, then start running again.
Gilbert and Zurek sought to learn how the running insects negotiate obstacles in their habitat, such as crevasses or grass stems, and what role their characteristically forward antennae play. To test this, the researchers set up a runway with a hurdle: In one experiment normal tiger beetles (of the species Cicindela hirticollis) ran the track and negotiated the hurdle, tilting their bodies up when their antennae touched the hurdle; in a second experiment, the researchers painted over the beetles’ eyes and found these blind beetles responded similarly. In the third test, they clipped the antennae of sighted beetles, and the insects smacked right into the hurdle.
The experiment revealed that for fast-moving tiger beetles, “eyes are not sufficient or necessary to avoid obstacles,” Gilbert said. “The antennae are held extremely rigid with the tips 1.5 millimeters off the ground, so they would potentially pick up any discontinuity in the surface.”
Gilbert questions how peregrine falcons and predatory fish compensate for blurry sight while speeding towards prey, potential research areas that no one has tested. The current study may provide a model for new questions. It’s possible, for example, that motion-blind fish perhaps employ their lateral line, sense organs found in aquatic vertebrates used to detect movement and vibration in water.
Also, autonomous vehicles could employ protruding antennae to sense their surroundings, as some of the first robots were fitted with, said Gilbert. “It would be cheaper than cameras,” he said. “For some applications, an antennae might be a solution, it is certainly one that worked evolutionarily for tiger beetles.”
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation
Joe Schwartz | Newswise
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy