Superior visual performance in nocturnal insects: Neural principles and bio-inspired technologies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding


At night, our visual capacities are severely reduced, with a complete loss in our ability to see colour and a dramatic loss in our ability to see fine spatial and temporal details. This is not the case for many nocturnal animals, notably insects. Our recent work, particularly on fast-flying moths and bees and on ball-rolling dung beetles, has shown that nocturnal animals are able to distinguish colours, to detect faint movements, to learn visual landmarks, to orient to the faint pattern of polarised light produced by the moon and to navigate using the stars. These impressive visual abilities are the result of exquisitely adapted eyes and visual systems, the product of millions of years of evolution. Nocturnal animals typically have highly sensitive eye designs and visual neural circuitry that is optimised for extracting reliable information from dim and noisy visual images. Even though we are only at the threshold of understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for reliable nocturnal vision, growing evidence suggests that the neural summation of photons in space and time is critically important: even though vision in dim light becomes necessarily coarser and slower, it also becomes significantly more reliable. We explored the benefits of spatiotemporal summation by creating a computer algorithm that mimicked nocturnal visual processing strategies. This algorithm dramatically increased the reliability of video collected in dim light, including the preservation of colour, strengthening evidence that summation strategies are essential for nocturnal vision.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • biomimetics, compound eye, computer vision, insect, nocturnal vision, sensitivity, spatial summation, temporal summation
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication 2016
ISBN (Electronic)9781510600386
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch
EventBioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication 2016 - Las Vegas, United States
Duration: 2016 Mar 212016 Mar 22


ConferenceBioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication 2016
CountryUnited States
CityLas Vegas