Ever feel out of sync with your surroundings? Imagine if you had the ability to slow down your brain activity in order to get in the ideal rhythmic mojo with your natural environment.
You can try meditation. Or, you can be a hawk-moth.
Hawk-moths are remarkable insects with behavior much like hummingbirds, capable of hovering while they feed on flower nectar, which they slurp using an ultra-long proboscis. Now it turns out they may also be master yogis.
New research suggests these bird-like bugs can actually slow down parts of their brains in order to adjust to certain changes in their environment, according to The New York Times.
Simon Sponberg and Thomas L. Daniel, professors at Georgia Tech, discovered these moths' amazing brain-tuning ability while attempting to understand how the insects manage to "move through their world with grace and agility."
For the study, the researchers designed robotic flowers and used high-speed video to record the moths' feeding behavior. By altering the speed by which these robo-flowers "swayed" (similar to how real flowers might sway in the wind), and by watching how the moths adjusted, researchers were able to glean hints about the insects' brain activity — particularly, about their visual processing.
See, hawk-moths are typically most active during dawn and dusk when light levels are low and in flux. This means that the ability to adjust their vision to compensate for these light conditions is important. Researchers therefore surmised that the moths might be reducing their visual response times in order to allow for greater light sensitivity.
To test this, researchers sped up the motion of the flowers. If the moths' visual processing was indeed slowed down in low light, then faster motion should be harder to detect for the moths in the same way fast action is blurred in a photograph at a slow shutter speed.
Sure enough, the experiment confirmed the hypothesis. The moths' movements while adjusting to the swaying robo-flowers were consistent with the theory that the moths were operating with slower visual processing in low light conditions.
The study also found that the moths could only stay in sync with the oscillating robotic flowers when the flowers swayed at speeds slower than 1.7 times a second. In other words, there is a limit to the hawk-moths' ability to both adjust to low light conditions and still keep rhythm with movements of flowers.
Interestingly, though, flowers commonly found in hawk-moth habitat rarely sway beyond this limit under natural conditions. So it would seem that hawk-moths are ideally suited for their environment, capable of adjusting their visual processing to both compensate for low light conditions and keep perfect sync with the movements of their favorite food source. It's an extraordinary example of how fine-tuned these animals are to their surroundings.
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