Tree shrews (Tupaia belangeri) are small diurnal mammals capable of quick and agile navigation. Electroretinographic and behavioral studies have indicated that tree shrews possess very good temporal vision, but the neuronal mechanisms underlying that temporal vision are not well understood. We used single-unit extracellular recording techniques to characterize the temporal response properties of individual retinal ganglion cell axons recorded from the optic tract. A prominent characteristic of most cells was their sustained or transient nature in responding to the flashing spot. Temporal modulation sensitivity functions were obtained using a Gaussian spot that was temporally modulated at different frequencies (2-60 Hz). Sustained cells respond linearly to contrast. They showed an average peak frequency of 6.9 Hz, a high-frequency cutoff at 31.3 Hz, and low-pass filtering. Transient cells showed nonlinear response to contrast. They had a peak frequency of 19.3 Hz, a high-frequency cutoff at about 47.6 Hz, band-pass filtering, and higher overall sensitivity than sustained cells. The responses of transient cells also showed a phase advance of about 88 deg whereas the phase advance for sustained cells was about 43 deg. Comparison with behavioral temporal modulation sensitivity results suggested that transient retinal ganglion cells may underlie detection for a wide range of temporal frequencies, with sustained ganglion cells possibly mediating detection below 4 Hz. These data suggest that two well-separated temporal channels exist at the retinal ganglion cell level in the tree shrew retina, with the transient channel playing a major role in temporal vision.