Dragonflies detect and pursue targets such as other insects for feeding and conspecific interaction. They have a class of neurons highly specialized for this task in their lobula, the "small target motion detecting" (STMD) neurons. One such neuron, CSTMD1, reaches maximum response slowly over hundreds of milliseconds of target motion. Recording the intracellular response from CSTMD1 and a second neuron in this system, BSTMD1, we determined that for the neurons to reach maximum response levels, target motion must produce sequential local activation of elementary motion detecting elements. This facilitation effect is most pronounced when targets move at velocities slower than what was previously thought to be optimal. It is completely disrupted if targets are instantaneously displaced a few degrees from their current location. Additionally, we utilize a simple computational model to discount the parsimonious hypothesis that CSTMD1's slow build-up to maximum response is due to it incorporating a sluggish neural delay filter. Whilst the observed facilitation may be too slow to play a role in prey pursuit flights, which are typically rapidly resolved, we hypothesize that it helps maintain elevated sensitivity during prolonged, aerobatically intricate conspecific pursuits. Since the effect seems to be localized, it most likely enhances the relative salience of the most recently "seen" locations during such pursuit flights.
Keywords: EMD; feature detector; insect vision; motion detection; salient feature; second order motion; target tracking.