ABSTRACT Many animal species take advantage of polarization vision for vital tasks such as orientation, communication and contrast enhancement. Previous studies have suggested that decapod crustaceans use a two-channel polarization system for contrast enhancement. Here, we characterize the polarization contrast sensitivity in a grapsid crab . We estimated the polarization contrast sensitivity of the animals by quantifying both their escape response and changes in heart rate when presented with polarized motion stimuli. The motion stimulus consisted of an expanding disk with an 82 deg polarization difference between the object and the background. More than 90% of animals responded by freezing or trying to avoid the polarized stimulus. In addition, we co-rotated the electric vector (e-vector) orientation of the light from the object and background by increments of 30 deg and found that the animals' escape response varied periodically with a 90 deg period. Maximum escape responses were obtained for object and background e-vectors near the vertical and horizontal orientations. Changes in cardiac response showed parallel results but also a minimum response when e-vectors of object and background were shifted by 45 deg with respect to the maxima. These results are consistent with an orthogonal receptor arrangement for the detection of polarized light, in which two channels are aligned with the vertical and horizontal orientations. It has been hypothesized that animals with object-based polarization vision rely on a two-channel detection system analogous to that of color processing in dichromats. Our results, obtained by systematically varying the e-vectors of object and background, provide strong empirical support for this theoretical model of polarized object detection.
SUMMARY When an animal's observable behavior remains unaltered, one can be misled in determining whether it is able to sense an environmental cue. By measuring an index of the internal state, additional information about perception may be obtained. We studied the cardiac response of the crab Chasmagnathus to different stimulus modalities: a light pulse, an air puff, virtual looming stimuli and a real visual danger stimulus. The first two did not trigger observable behavior, but the last two elicited a clear escape response. We examined the changes in heart rate upon sensory stimulation. Cardiac response and escape response latencies were also measured and compared during looming stimuli presentation. The cardiac parameters analyzed revealed significant changes (cardio-inhibitory responses) to all the stimuli investigated. We found a clear correlation between escape and cardiac response latencies to different looming stimuli. This study proved useful to examine the perceptual capacity independently of behavior. In addition, the correlation found between escape and cardiac responses support previous results which showed that in the face of impending danger the crab triggers several coordinated defensive reactions. The ability to escape predation or to be alerted to subtle changes in the environment in relation to autonomic control is associated with the complex ability to integrate sensory information as well as motor output to target tissues. This `fear, fight or flight' response gives support to the idea of an autonomic-like reflexive control in crustaceans.