The visual ecology of fiddler crabs

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2006 Jan;192(1):1-25. doi: 10.1007/s00359-005-0048-7. Epub 2005 Dec 10.


With their eyes on long vertical stalks, their panoramic visual field and their pronounced equatorial acute zone for vertical resolving power, the visual system of fiddler crabs is exquisitely tuned to the geometry of vision in the flat world of inter-tidal mudflats. The crabs live as burrow-centred grazers in dense, mixed-sex, mixed-age and mixed-species colonies, with the active space of an individual rarely exceeding 1 m(2). The full behavioural repertoire of fiddler crabs can thus be monitored over extended periods of time on a moment to moment basis together with the visual information they have available to guide their actions. These attributes make the crabs superb subjects for analysing visual tasks and the design of visual processing mechanisms under natural conditions, a prerequisite for understanding the evolution of visual systems. In this review we show, on the one hand, how deeply embedded fiddler crab vision is in the behavioural and the physical ecology of these animals and, on the other hand, how their behavioural options are constrained by their perceptual limitations. Studying vision in fiddler crabs reminds us that vision has a topography, that it is context-dependent and pragmatic and that there are perceptual limits to what animals can know and therefore care about.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Ocular / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brachyura / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environment
  • Eye / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Social Behavior
  • Vision, Ocular