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J Exp Biol. 2010 Dec 15;213(Pt 24):4240-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.051011.

Molecular evidence for color discrimination in the Atlantic sand fiddler crab, Uca pugilator.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio 45221, USA.


Fiddler crabs are intertidal brachyuran crabs that belong to the genus Uca. Approximately 97 different species have been identified, and several of these live sympatrically. Many have species-specific body color patterns that may act as signals for intra- and interspecific communication. To understand the behavioral and ecological role of this coloration we must know whether fiddler crabs have the physiological capacity to perceive color cues. Using a molecular approach, we identified the opsin-encoding genes and determined their expression patterns across the eye of the sand fiddler crab, Uca pugilator. We identified three different opsin-encoding genes (UpRh1, UpRh2 and UpRh3). UpRh1 and UpRh2 are highly related and have similarities in their amino acid sequences to other arthropod long- and medium-wavelength-sensitive opsins, whereas UpRh3 is similar to other arthropod UV-sensitive opsins. All three opsins are expressed in each ommatidium, in an opsin-specific pattern. UpRh3 is present only in the R8 photoreceptor cell, whereas UpRh1 and UpRh2 are present in the R1-7 cells, with UpRh1 expression restricted to five cells and UpRh2 expression present in three cells. Thus, one photoreceptor in every ommatidium expresses both UpRh1 and UpRh2, providing another example of sensory receptor coexpression. These results show that U. pugilator has the basic molecular machinery for color perception, perhaps even trichromatic vision.

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