Fan worms (Annelida: Sabellidae) possess compound eyes and other photoreceptors on their radiolar feeding tentacles. These eyes putatively serve as an alarm system that alerts the worm to encroaching threats, eliciting a rapid defensive retraction into their protective tube. The structure and independent evolutionary derivation of these radiolar eyes make them a fascinating target for exploring the emergence of new sensory systems and visually guided behaviours. However, little is known about their physiology and how this impacts their function. Here, we present electroretinogram recordings from the radiolar eyes of the fan worm Acromegalomma vesiculosum. We examine their spectral sensitivity along with their dynamic range and temporal resolution. Our results show that they possess one class of photoreceptors with a single visual pigment peaking in the blue–green part of the spectrum around 510 nm, which matches the dominant wavelengths in their shallow coastal habitats. We found the eyes to have a rather high temporal resolution with a critical flicker fusion frequency around 35 Hz. The high temporal resolution of this response is ideally suited for detecting rapidly moving predators but also necessitates downstream signal processing to filter out caustic wave flicker. This study provides a fundamental understanding of how these eyes function. Furthermore, these findings emphasise a set of dynamic physiological principles that are well suited for governing a multi-eyed startle response in coastal aquatic habitats.
- spectral sensitivity
- visual ecology