Behavioural evidence for polarisation vision in stomatopods reveals a potential channel for communication

Curr Biol. 1999 Jul 15;9(14):755-8. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(99)80336-4.


Polarisation sensitivity (PS) - the ability to detect the orientation of polarised light - occurs in a wide variety of invertebrates [1] [2] and vertebrates [3] [4] [5], many of which are marine species [1]. Of these, the crustacea are particularly well documented in terms of their structural [6] and neural [7] [8] adaptations for PS. The few behavioural studies conducted on crustaceans demonstrate orientation to, or local navigation with, polarised sky patterns [9]. Aside from this, the function of PS in crustaceans, and indeed in most animals, remains obscure. Where PS can be shown to allow perception of polarised light as a 'special sensory quality' [1], separate from intensity or colour, it has been termed polarisation vision (PV). Here, within the remarkable visual system of the stomatopod crustaceans (mantis shrimps) [10], we provide the first demonstration of PV in the crustacea and the first convincing evidence for learning the orientation of polarised light in any animal. Using new polarimetric [11] and photographic methods to examine stomatopods, we found striking patterns of polarisation on their antennae and telson, suggesting that one function of PV in stomatopods may be communication [12]. PV may also be used for tasks such as navigation [5] [9] [13], location of reflective water surfaces [14] and contrast enhancement [1] [15] [16] [17] [18]. It is possible that the stomatopod PV system also contributes to some of these functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Decapoda / physiology*
  • Light
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*