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Praying mantises get fitted with 3D glasses, watch bug movies

Giving whole new meaning to the term "bug eyed," researchers glue tiny glasses to the weird insect that sees and hunts in 3D in hopes of understanding 3D vision better.

The 3D-video craze may have died down a bit from a few years ago when every other new flat screen or Hollywood blockbuster seemed to be boasting the tech, but scientists may have found a new group that will be more than happy to wear the specs -- praying mantises.

Yes, that's right. As we reported back in 2014, scientists actually outfitted the odd insects with tiny 3D glasses. Now the results of the experiments are in, and they confirm that mantises actually see and hunt in 3D vision. I've been staring at the below picture for a while now of the green and blue lenses affixed to a praying mantis' head with beeswax and I still can't decide if it's cute or creepy.

Researchers have suspected for years that mantises see in 3D, but scientists from Newcastle University in the U.K. finally hit on the right design of glasses for the insects.

The idea is the same as the old-school red and blue polarized glasses used at 3D movies, but the researchers used green instead of red because the bugs see that color much better. After being fitted with their new custom specs, the creepy-crawly subjects were shown short videos of tasty bugs in 3D, and they struck out at them. When shown the same images in 2D, they didn't go for the bait. (Let's face it, given their habit of decapitating mates, praying mantises probably like their entertainment big.)

It's coming right at us! Go mantis pinchers!

Mike Urwin/Newcastle University

The Newcastle researchers published the results of their research in the journal Scientific Reports this week under the title "Insect stereopsis demonstrated using a 3D insect cinema." But the big question remains. Why glue one of the most overhyped media technologies of recent decades to the head of a strange bug?

"Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency. We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world," Jenny Read, a professor or vision science and leader of the study, said in a release. "Better understanding of their simpler processing systems helps us understand how 3D vision evolved, and could lead to possible new algorithms for 3D depth perception in computers."

So at some point in the future when a 3D game or flick leaves you shivering or sweating from the overwhelming reality of the experience, you may be able to thank the praying mantis that still understand out why it can't grab that unusual green and blue bug that's right in front of its eyes. ("AAAGHH! It's right there! Damn my minute mantis brain!")

Perhaps in a few years it won't be so crazy to see a mantis wearing an Oculus Rift and riding this Tron lightcycle.