Insects may have tiny brains the size of a pinhead, but the latest research shows just how clever they really are. Will the future Earth be controlled by intelligent insects? Scientists have discovered that surrealistic experiences increase human brainpower and now they've discovered that swarming increases the size of BUG brains (in this case, locusts).
For the first time, researchers have worked out how insects judge the speed of moving objects (something that is important because most insects eat OTHER insects). It appears that insect brain cells have additional mechanisms which can calculate how to make a controlled landing on a flower or reach a food source. This ability only works in a natural setting. Biologist David O'Carroll says, "We have known for many years that they can estimate the direction of moving objects but until now we have not known how they judge speed like other animals, including humans. It appears they take into account different light patterns in nature, such as a foggy morning or a sunny day, and their brain cells adapt accordingly. This mechanism in their brain enables them to distinguish moving objects in a wide variety of natural settings. It also highlights the fact that single neurons can exhibit extremely complex behavior."
Now back to those locusts: In BBC News, Victoria Gill quotes researcher Stephen Rogers as saying, "Normally locusts would avoid close contact with each other. It's only when they are forced to be in close contact that they change dramatically." Getting together seems to ALSO increase human brainpower.
BBC quotes his colleague Swidbert Ott as saying, "You find that brain regions specifically to do with things like learning and memory are massively enlarged in the gregarious ones."They tested this by allowing some locusts to mingle with others and keep others in solitary boxes. BBC quotes Rogers as saying, "[Solitary] locusts are a real pain to keep. You can't keep them together or they will change, so every one is kept like a race horse in its little stable--we have about 100 individual boxes with all the supplies they need."
This study refutes the theory of the solitary monk hiding in a cave and meditating in order to gain wisdom. However, crowds can influence each other in BAD ways as well, as we humans know all too well. BBC quotes Ott as saying, "Being inside these swarms is really a messy business--it's driven by hunger and the need to figure out where to find new food. These insects even turn to cannibalism--if you're not quick enough you turn into lunch, so the [big] brain gives them the edge in a cut throat situation."
They use those bug brains to migrate long distances without wearing out their fragile wings. How do they do it? They ride the wind. In fact, there's an "insect highway" high in the sky--one that most people don't notice.
About 3 billion insects pass over your head every month in the summer, and when you're closer to the equator, this number gets LARGER. In Houston or New Orleans there could be as many as 6 billion insects in the sky above you during the summer months.
On the National Public Radio website, Robert Krulwich quotes entomologist Matt Greenstone as saying, "They just stand straight up on their little back legs and just by doing that they can get part of their body up into this layer [of air] where it
NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.