Neural Specializations for Small Target Detection in Insects

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2012 Apr;22(2):272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2011.12.013. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


Despite being equipped with low-resolution eyes and tiny brains, many insects show exquisite abilities to detect and pursue targets even in highly textured surrounds. Target tracking behavior is subserved by neurons that are sharply tuned to the motion of small high-contrast targets. These neurons respond robustly to target motion, even against self-generated optic flow. A recent model, supported by neurophysiology, generates target selectivity by being sharply tuned to the unique spatiotemporal profile associated with target motion. Target neurons are likely connected in a complex network where some provide more direct output to behavior, whereas others serve an inter-regulatory role. These interactions may regulate attention and aid in the robust detection of targets in clutter observed in behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motion Perception / physiology*