Praying mantises are the only invertebrates in the world known to have 3-D vision, so scientists are fitting them with the world's smallest 3-D glasses with the hope that the experiment will reveal clues about the evolution of the ability, reports Canada Journal.

The tiny, slick-looking 3-D glasses, which are fitted on the carnivorous bugs' heads using beeswax, make the already-poised mantises look especially cool. Scientists then play a specialized, computer-generated 3-D "movie" to try to fool the mantises into striking at false objects.

It's all in the name of figuring out whether mantises can see a moving object standing out in depth in a similar way to humans and monkeys. If so, then it means that 3-D processing has evolved independently at least twice in the history of life — a remarkable insight. On the other hand, if mantis 3-D vision turns out to work differently than with vertebrates, then it could revolutionize our understanding of how to program 3-D vision in robots and computers.

"This is a really exciting project to be working on. So much is still waiting to be discovered in this system," said Dr. Vivek Nityananda, one of the researchers working on the project. "If we find that the way mantises process 3-D vision is very different to the way humans do it, then that could open up all kinds of possibilities to create much simpler algorithms for programming 3-D vision into robots."

You can watch a video showcasing the chic-looking mantises striking at projected prey below:

The research, which is led by Dr. Jenny Read from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in the U.K., has been funded by a £1M Research Leadership Award (about $1.6M U.S.) by the Leverhulme Trust. It's the first project to examine 3-D vision in mantises since 1983, when the insects were discovered to have the ability.

Mantises used in the study are well-treated, researchers promise. The beeswax-fitted glasses are easily removed, and the bugs are placed in an insect room after the experiments are over, where they are fed well and maintained.

Related on MNN: