Circularly Polarized Light as a Communication Signal in Mantis Shrimps

Yakir Luc Gagnon*, Rachel Marie Templin, Martin John How, N. Justin Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
357 Downloads (Pure)


Animals that communicate using conspicuous body patterns face a trade-off between desired detection by intended receivers and undesired detection from eavesdropping predators, prey, rivals, or parasites [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10]. In some cases, this trade-off favors the evolution of signals that are both hidden from predators and visible to conspecifics. Animals may produce covert signals using a property of light that is invisible to those that they wish to evade, allowing them to hide in plain sight (e.g., dragonfish can see their own, otherwise rare, red bioluminescence [11, 12 and 13]). The use of the polarization of light is a good example of a potentially covert communication channel, as very few vertebrates are known to use polarization for object-based vision [14 and 15]. However, even these patterns are vulnerable to eavesdroppers, as sensitivity to the linearly polarized component of light is widespread among invertebrates due to their intrinsically polarization sensitive photoreceptors [14 and 16]. Stomatopod crustaceans appear to have gone one step further in this arms race and have evolved a sensitivity to the circular polarization of light, along with body patterns producing it [17]. However, to date we have no direct evidence that any of these marine crustaceans use this modality to communicate with conspecifics. We therefore investigated circular polarization vision of the mantis shrimp Gonodactylaceus falcatus [ 18] and demonstrate that (1) the species produces strongly circularly polarized body patterns, (2) they discriminate the circular polarization of light, and (3) that they use circular polarization information to avoid occupied burrows when seeking a refuge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3074-3078
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number23
Early online date12 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2015


  • circular polarization
  • Gonodactylaceus falcatus
  • signaling
  • stomatopod
  • visual ecology

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