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Dragonflies can predict the path of their prey

Until now, the research community has mainly considered the capabilities of mammals such as humans for predicting where a moving object will be in the near future. Now researchers from Lund University have managed to show that dragonflies can predict where their prey are moving to. This collaboration between Lund University and the University of Adelaide resulted in the discovery of nerve cells, neurons, in the brain of the dragonfly Hemicordulia that allows it to predict where their flying prey are moving to and catch them. These neurons make it possible to focus on a small object that moves over a complex background. We humans use similar brain processes to track and catch a ball thrown towards us. This discovery is important for research on the nervous system. In particular, for understanding how single nerve cells can make advanced predictions based on the path of moving objects. David O’Carroll, professor of biology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Lund, thinks that dragonflies can serve as model organisms for continued research in this field. The nerve cells discovered by the researchers in the brain of the dragonfly are able to make a selection of a single target from the mass of visual information that the brain receives, such as motion of another insect, and then predict its direction and future location. The dragonfly, like humans, makes this assessment based on the path along which the object moves. “In other words, the dragonfly does something very similar to what we do when we track a ball in motion. Despite major differences in the complexity of the brain, evolution has led to the insect using its brain for advanced visual processes that are usually only considered in mammals,” says David O’Carroll.”

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