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Curr Biol. 2008 Mar 25;18(6):429-34. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.02.066.

Circular polarization vision in a stomatopod crustacean.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland 21250, USA.


We describe the addition of a fourth visual modality in the animal kingdom, the perception of circular polarized light. Animals are sensitive to various characteristics of light, such as intensity, color, and linear polarization [1, 2]. This latter capability can be used for object identification, contrast enhancement, navigation, and communication through polarizing reflections [2-4]. Circularly polarized reflections from a few animal species have also been known for some time [5, 6]. Although optically interesting [7, 8], their signal function or use (if any) was obscure because no visual system was known to detect circularly polarized light. Here, in stomatopod crustaceans, we describe for the first time a visual system capable of detecting and analyzing circularly polarized light. Four lines of evidence-behavior, electrophysiology, optical anatomy, and details of signal design-are presented to describe this new visual function. We suggest that this remarkable ability mediates sexual signaling and mate choice, although other potential functions of circular polarization vision, such as enhanced contrast in turbid environments, are also possible [7, 8]. The ability to differentiate the handedness of circularly polarized light, a visual feat never expected in the animal kingdom, is demonstrated behaviorally here for the first time.

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