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Effects of light intensity and pattern contrast on the ability of the land crab, Cardisoma guanhumi, to separate optic flow-field components

  • AARON P. JOHNSON (a1) (a2), W. JON. P. BARNES (a1) and MARTIN W.S. MACAULEY (a2)


Using a novel suite of computer-generated visual stimuli that mimicked components of optic flow, the visual responses of the tropical land crab, Cardisoma guanhumi, were investigated. We show that crabs are normally successful in distinguishing the rotational and translational components of the optic flow field, showing strong optokinetic responses to the former but not the latter. This ability was not dependant on the orientation of the crab, occurring both in “forwards-walking” and “sideways-walking” configurations. However, under conditions of low overall light intensity and/or low object/background contrast, the separation mechanism shows partial failure causing the crab to generate compensatory eye movements to translation, particularly in response to low-frequency (low-velocity) stimuli. Using this discovery, we then tested the ability of crabs to separate rotational and translational components in a combined rotation/translation flow field under different conditions. We demonstrate that, while crabs can successfully separate such a combined flow field under normal circumstances, showing compensatory eye movements only to the rotational component, they are unable to make this separation under conditions of low overall light intensity and low object/background contrast. Here, the responses to both flow-field components show summation when they are in phase, but, surprisingly, there is little reduction in the amplitude of responses to rotation when the translational component is in antiphase. Our results demonstrate that the crab's visual system finds separation of flow-field components a harder task than detection of movement, since the former shows partial failure at light intensities and/or object/background contrasts at which movement of the world around the crab is still generating high-gain optokinetic responses.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Aaron P. Johnson, McGill Vision Research Unit, Department of Ophthalmology, 687 Pine Avenue West, H4-14, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, H3A 1A1. E-mail:


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Effects of light intensity and pattern contrast on the ability of the land crab, Cardisoma guanhumi, to separate optic flow-field components

  • AARON P. JOHNSON (a1) (a2), W. JON. P. BARNES (a1) and MARTIN W.S. MACAULEY (a2)


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