Static antennae act as locomotory guides that compensate for visual motion blur in a diurnal, keen-eyed predator

Daniel B. Zurek, Cole Gilbert

Abstract

High visual acuity allows parallel processing of distant environmental features, but only when photons are abundant enough. Diurnal tiger beetles (Carabidae: Cicindelinae) have acute vision for insects and visually pursue prey in open, flat habitats. Their fast running speed causes motion blur that degrades visual contrast, forces stop-and-go pursuit and potentially impairs obstacle detection. We demonstrate here that vision is insufficient for obstacle detection during running, and show instead that antennal touch is both necessary and sufficient for obstacle detection. While running, tiger beetle vision appears to be photon-limited in a way reminiscent of animals in low-light habitats. Such animals often acquire wide-field spatial information through mechanosensation mediated by longer, more mobile appendages. We show that a nocturnal tiger beetle species waves its antennae in elliptical patterns typical of poorly sighted insects. While antennae of diurnal species are also used for mechanosensation, they are rigidly held forward with the tips close to the substrate. This enables timely detection of path obstructions followed by an increase in body pitch to avoid collision. Our results demonstrate adaptive mechanosensory augmentation of blurred visual information during fast locomotion, and suggest that future studies may reveal non-visual sensory compensation in other fast-moving animals.

  • Received November 23, 2013.
  • Accepted January 14, 2014.
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