Like humans, dragonflies are capable of focusing their attention

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Scientists have discovered that dragonflies can do something they didn't think invertebrates were capable of. It's called ‘selective attention.' Like primates, dragonflies have special brain cells that allow them to lock on to specific targets when hunting their prey, while simultaneously ignoring potential distractions. The discovery sheds important insight into the sophistication of bug brains — and could eventually help in the development of intelligent robots.

The study was conducted by Steven Wiederman and David O'Carroll from the University of Adelaide's Centre for Neuroscience Research. Their paper was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

TO do their research, the scientists used a tiny glass probe with a tip that was only 60 nanometers wide — about 1,500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The tool allowed them to isolate the neuron activity in the dragonfly's brain allowing for the selective attention.


During their tests, they found that, when presented with more than one visual target, the dragonfly brain cell would engage, allowing the insect to both ‘lock on' to one target and set aside any peripheral distractions as it honed in for the attack.

"Selective attention is fundamental to humans' ability to select and respond to one sensory stimulus in the presence of distractions," noted Wiederman through their official release.


Dragonflies use this capacity when hunting for insects, many of which take refuge in swarms. But once the dragonfly selects its target, its neuron activity filters out all other potential prey. It then swoops in for the attack, often achieving a success rate of 97% (which is amazing).

The researchers believe that their work could be used to model a system for robotic vision.


Image: alslutsky/shutterstock.