Moth head and compound eyes
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Moth with Bedroom Eyes

Lepidoptera sp.

Magnification: 417:1

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Understanding other animals’ sensory abilities allows us to put our capabilities and limitations into perspective and lets us appreciate what we have. It also lets us imagine what it would be like to perceive the world through another creature’s eyes and – inspires technological innovations (ie: when designing robots or night vision goggles).

In general the insect compound eye is made up of many separate lenses, called ommatidia. Moths have huge eyes covering almost their entire head. The huge compound eye even lets them see ‘in the back of their head’ at the cost of a relatively low resolution, because it depends from the number of photoreceptors (i.e. number of lenses) that can be grouped on the relatively small head. Thereby insects perceive the environment as ‘patchwork image’, as if we would look through the grid of a cellar window.

Nevertheless the small moth has a few tricks up their sleeves for a better vision in the dark: (1) Neural summation: moths’ brains store up images over time, giving their photoreceptors more chances to see in dim light (our photoreceptors ‘stream’ images in a constant flow which means old images are almost immediately lost). (2) Ultraviolet photoreceptor type. Instead of red, moths have ultraviolet photoreceoptor types helping them to find flowers at night: in contrast to humans, moths rely on color vision even at very low light without having to switch to achromatic vision to differentiate colors at low intensities. It may give them a less accurate sense of color at daylight, but moths see color at much lower intensities than humans. (3) Antireflective coatings: the ommatidia of moths’ are covered with micro-structures which increases light efficiency at night and helps to avoid predators at daylight (frogs, lizards, birds). Anti-reflective coatings have become a key research area in solar panel construction, because they increase the efficiency.