Using a system similar to that of a camera under low-lighting condition, researchers discovered that moths will slow down their visual systems in order to absorb more light and figure out where they are going. That is, unless things are moving a bit too fast around them.
The researchers built a flower-shaped robot filled with an aromatic mixture known to initiate foraging behaviors in moths. The robotic flower was programmed to sway and jitter at different speeds. Then, the scientists released female hawkmoths in a lab under light conditions that matched those seen in the late afternoon and mid-dusk. The researchers also filmed the moths as they tried to keep up with their scented targets.
Thanks to the moving flowers, the researchers were able to determine that hawkmoths lose some of their precision and begin to lag behind swaying flowers when they move above a certain speed, in very low light. "[The moth] sees more poorly following motions that are above 2 hertz," says Simon Sponberg, at biologist at Georgia Tech and a co-author of the study — a frequency that's equivalent to the robot flower swaying back and forth twice in a single second.
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