09 August 2012

Tenth International Congress for Neuroethology, Day 4

Today was a half day at the meeting. The organizers deliberately scheduled half a day of free time so people could muck around the Washington, DC area if they wanted.

The first morning talk was by Elke Buschbeck. She and her team have been busy studying insect eyes. But these are probably not the "fly eyes" that you think of when you think of insects. These are structurally different and called stemmata. The cool discovery she made a few years ago was a diving beetle which has bifocal stemmata. Her students had presented this two years ago at the Ninth Congress in Salamanca (had just come out in Current Biology, I think), so I knew part of this story. But I was still very interested to see the videos of this beetle in action.

What I don’t remember hearing before was that these baby beetles have a optical burqa. All the light sensitive cells in their eyes line up in a single narrow strip. Imagine your could read only this line of text, and you were blind to everything above and below it. That’s the diving beetle’s visual world at this stage. Buschbeck showed great video of the beetles coming in towards pray, and they “bob their heads,” scanning up and down so they can see the whole image.

It's a very odd way to make an eye.

Of the three concurrent sympsosia later, I went to one on invertebrate movement, which is sort of my old home territory. Most of it was familiar to me, but this factoid caught a lot of people’s attention on Twitter.

Lots of people know octopuses are brainy invertebrates. All told, they probably have around half a billion neurons throughout their body.

About two thirds, 66%, of those neurons are in the legs.

Octopuses have very distributed nervous systems, and some of their behaviour doesn't need to be controlled by the brain at all. The presenter, Binyamen Hochner, said that computation can occurs anywhere. And he didn't just mean outside the brain; he is essentially arguing that the body itself can carry out some computations.

For my afternoon, I went to the mall and ended up in the U.S. Botanic Garden. Looking at plants was about the right speed for me. A good mental palate cleanser. Then, off to the evening banquet on a ship cruising the Potomac (pictured above).

One more day, and it will be the best so far! Because tomorrow there is a symposium on nociception that I helped to organize. This has been in the works since the Salamanca meeting two years ago, so I am pretty excited to see it about to come together.

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