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Nature. 1996 Jul 4;382(6586):63-6.

Insect motion detectors matched to visual ecology.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.


To detect motion, primates, birds and insects all use local detectors to correlate signals sampled at one location in the image with those sampled after a delay at adjacent locations. These detectors can adapt to high image velocities by shortening the delay. To investigate whether they use long delays for detecting low velocities, we compared motion-sensitive neurons in ten species of fast-flying insects, some of which encounter low velocities while hovering. Neurons of bee-flies and hawkmoths, which hover, are tuned to lower temporal frequencies than those of butterflies and bumblebees, which do not. Tuning to low frequencies indicates longer delays and extends sensitivity to lower velocities. Hoverflies retain fast temporal tuning but use their high spatial acuity for sensing low-velocity motion. Thus an unexpectedly wide range of spatio-temporal tuning matches motion detection to visual ecology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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