Locusts perform complex tasks even with pinhead-sized brains, says a new study.

Take, for instance, climbing a ladder. We rely on our vision to find the successive rungs. Similarly, locusts also look out while doing anything comparable.

“Visually guided limb control is often thought to be complicated and requires sophisticated computations because you have to place your limb in a position you can only see, not touch,” said Jeremy Niven of the University of Cambridge.

“The visual control of limb placement in the locusts suggests that this can be achieved by much smaller-brained insects.”

“It’s another example of insects performing a behaviour we previously thought was restricted to relatively big-brained animals with sophisticated motor control, such as humans, monkeys, or octopuses,” he added.

Rather than relying on binocular vision as we do, locusts apparently rely on visual input from a single eye to control the leg on the same side.

People and other mammals including cats also use their vision both before and during a step. It appears that locusts commit to a particular foothold before a step; if something changes mid-step, they miss their target.

“Most studies of insect vision have concentrated on insects using vision during flight because insects such as bees and flies do spend a lot of time flying,” Mr. Niven said.

“Other insects, such as stick insects, crickets, and cockroaches spend a lot of time walking, but they all have relatively small eyes and long antennae to ‘feel’ their way through the environment,” Mr. Niven said, according to a Cambridge release.

“Locusts spend time both walking and flying and have short antennae and large eyes. This started us thinking about whether it was possible for locusts to use vision to find footholds,” Mr. Niven said.

These findings were published online on Thursday in Current Biology.

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