Behavioural relevance of polarization sensitivity as a target detection mechanism in cephalopods and fishes

Vincenzo Pignatelli, Shelby E. Temple, Tsyr Huei Chiou, Nicholas W. Roberts, Shaun P. Collin, N. Justin Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Aquatic habitats are rich in polarized patterns that could provide valuable information about the environment to an animal with a visual system sensitive to polarization of light. Both cephalopods and fishes have been shown to behaviourally respond to polarized light cues, suggesting that polarization sensitivity (PS) may play a role in improving target detection and/or navigation/orientation. However, while there is general agreement concerning the presence of PS in cephalopods and some fish species, its functional significance remains uncertain. Testing the role of PS in predator or prey detection seems an excellent paradigm with which to study the contribution of PS to the sensory assets of both groups, because such behaviours are critical to survival. We developed a novel experimental set-up to deliver computer-generated, controllable, polarized stimuli to freeswimming cephalopods and fishes with which we tested the behavioural relevance of PS using stimuli that evoke innate responses (such as an escape response from a looming stimulus and a pursuing behaviour of a small prey-like stimulus). We report consistent responses of cephalopods to looming stimuli presented in polarization and luminance contrast; however, none of the fishes tested responded to either the looming or the prey-like stimuli when presented in polarization contrast.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)734-741
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1565
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Mar 12

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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