The Remarkable Visual Abilities of Nocturnal Insects: Neural Principles and Bioinspired Night-Vision Algorithms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite their tiny eyes and brains, nocturnal insects have remarkable visual abilities. Recent work-particularly on fast-flying moths and bees and on ball-rolling dung beetles-has shown that nocturnal insects are able to distinguish colors, to detect faint movements, to learn visual landmarks, to orient to the faint pattern of polarized 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. 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, those details that are preserved are seen clearly. These benefits of spatio-temporal summation have obvious implications for dim-light video technologies. In addition to reviewing the visual adaptations of nocturnal insects, we here describe an algorithm inspired by nocturnal visual processing strategies-from amplification of primary image signals to optimized spatio-temporal summation to reduce noise-that dramatically increases the reliability of video collected in dim light, including the preservation of color.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Computer Vision and Robotics (Autonomous Systems)
  • Biological Sciences
  • Mathematics


  • Compound eye, denoising, image enhancement, insect, nocturnal vision, structure tensor, summation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1411-1426
JournalProceedings of the IEEE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch