Research Interest
Navigation in nocturnal insects

Mitali Patil
mitalip at ncbs dot res dot in

I am a microbiologist and a geneticist by training. During my microbiology days, I took great joy in having protozoan pets and putting under the microscope everything I found at Mumbai beaches and monsoon puddles.
Ironically, I spent two years surrounded by numerous Drosophila mutants but none of them inspired me to work with insects. What did inspire me to come join this wonderful lab were Dragonflies. While strolling around the beautiful CHG campus, one day, I came across a bunch of Dragonflies which were hunting midges and doing some spectacular aerial maneuvers. I remember seeing them do super sharp U-turns and backflips. Thanks to them, I decided to write to Sanjay and ended up here at ncbs not having the slightest of idea about how much the insect world had to offer!   
In the lab, my broader goal is to understand how nocturnal insects navigate. Dirunal insects, in addition to all the other cues that they can percieve, rely heavily on vision for activities like mating, feeding, flying or something even seemingly simple like landing. A smooth landing, for example, requires an insect to appropriately decelerate and orient their bodies with respect to the landing surface. To appropriately decelerate, an insect first needs to know how fast it is moving with respect to target. Insects get a sense of their velocities by measuring how fast the image of the target object expands on their retina as they fly towards it. As you can already imagine, vision therefore plays a huge role in avoiding insects from crashing into things. At low light levels, visual processing is slow and insects need to perform the right maneuvers at very short time scales. It is therefore worth wondering how exactly does a nocturnal insect overcome the challenge posed by low light levels as they nagivate through their surroundings. Do nocturnal insects have strategies different from diurnal insects in order to succesfully perform the same tasks? Many of them have eyes that are adapted to low light levels but what do they do when it is completely dark? When it isn't completely dark, do they rely solely on their heightened sense of vision or do they involve other senses to perform tasks that a diurnal insect can sucessfuly perform by only using vision?  
To get insignts into all of these questions, I use high speed cameras and IR lights to film behaviours of nocturnal insects. High speed cameras allow me to temporally resolve events that are occuring at very short time scales and IR lights help me film the insects while they are in the dark. Currently, I'm looking at how mosquitoes land. 
P.S: I loved microscopy as an undergrad. With my hispeed cameras and macro lenses, I not only get to resolve spatial information but also temporal information. It is like having a microscope in time! 

check out some of my amateur explorations: here and here