Mantid photos

Lisa’s been taking more fab photos of the mantids. They are so cool!

Fantastic close-up of a mantis that has jumped onto the CRT!

Mantid striking at image on computer screen

Eyeball to eyeball

Here are some photos showing our experimental set-up.

Mantis watching simulated bug on the CRT

Close-up of mantis watching a simulated bug on a CRT

Top-down view. You can see the mantis leaning out to the right to try and pursue the bug.

Graphs are good

All week Lisa’s been a bit gloomy about the behaviour of the mantids. Apparently they have not been cooperating well, doing defensive postures at the screen or even jumping off their perch. But she’s plugged doggedly on with true PhD student grit :). Anyway, we just sat down and created a script to load up the Matlab files and graph such data as she has managed to collect. And it’s great! Really beautiful, does exactly what we expected, demonstrates our protocol is sensible and suggests it’s worth while proceeding to more interesting stimuli. Just goes to show, you don’t always have an accurate sense of how good your data is as it comes in.

In other news, Paul has taken delivery of a 3D Dell laptop. Having a few teething problems getting it to display in 3D, but I shall be very interested to see the results. MSc computing students Mike and Nick are starting their projects in the lab this week, and James is back from holiday. So it’s going to be a nice diverse lab meeting this Friday.

Welcome Ghaith!

Ghaith Tarawneh is the second person to accept one of the M3 positions. Ghaith is just writing up his PhD in Microelectronic Circuit Design in the Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering department here at Newcastle. He also has a MSc in Mechatronics from Newcastle (where he was the highest-ranking student), and a BSc in Computer Engineering from Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Jordan (where he was the highest-ranking student – spot the pattern). He has skills in just about everything electronic, computer or programming-related. In the initial phase of the project, Ghaith’s technical wizardry is going to be essential for key challenges like automated recognition of mantis behaviour and displaying 3D images to insect eyes. Longer-term, Ghaith is keen to move into the computational neuroscience aspects of the project, figuring out the circuits which underlie mantis vision. Given the “machine” aspect of the M3 project, it’s an intriguing thought that Ghaith has the skills to implement these computations in hardware as well as in software if he so desires.
Ghaith will be the first RA to start work on the project, with a start date of 1st June if all goes well.

Welcome Vivek!

Delighted to welcome Vivek Nityananda as the first of the three Leverhulme-funded research associates working on the “Man, Mantis and Machine” project. Vivek currently holds a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship from the European Union. For this, he’s working on visual search and attention in bumblebees with Prof Lars Chittka at Queen Mary, London. Previously, he’s worked on acoustic communication in frogs and bush-crickets at the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Vivek will be starting work on the M3 project once his Marie Curie fellowship has finished in September. I’m delighted he’ll be joining us, and look forward to a highly productive time together.

Tantalising a mantis

Very excited that Lisa has been making great progress with the mantid behaviour experiments. Here is a video showing 3 trials of one of Lisa’s mantids performing a visual tracking task. The mantis is being filmed from underneath as it hangs from a stand – they seem happiest when upside-down. In front of the mantis is a CRT monitor where we are displaying the visual stimuli in the experiment. You’ll hear a Ping! when a fixation stimulus appears on the screen. This is a “simulated bug” which runs around in a spiral in towards the centre of the screen. This ensures the mantid begins each trial looking at the centre of the screen. Then you’ll hear a second Ping! as the bug starts to run either left or right (the tracking stimulus). Watch the mantis go mad as it tries to get its claws on the little beastie!


Spent some time this morning with Lisa coding up a stimulus she thought might attract the mantids’ attention. Apparently it worked – the first time she presented it, the mantis leapt right off its perch onto the screen!

Mantids meet the public at Moorbank Botanical Gardens

MRes/PhD student Lisa Hindmarsh ran a public engagement activity at the Open Day at Moorbank Gardens. Adults and children alike loved seeing the mantids, and using the microscopes to look at oothecae and other biological specimens.