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Deep-sea crabs grab grub using UV vision
Date:9/5/2012

DURHAM, N.C. -- Crabs living half-a-mile down in the ocean, beyond the reach of sunlight, have a sort of color vision combining sensitivity to blue and ultraviolet light. Their detection of shorter wavelengths may give the crabs a way to ensure they grab food, not poison.

"Call it color-coding your food," said Duke biologist Snke Johnsen. He explained that the animals might be using their ultraviolet and blue-light sensitivity to "sort out the likely toxic corals they're sitting on, which glow, or bioluminesce, blue-green and green, from the plankton they eat, which glow blue."

The discovery explains what some deep-sea animals use their eyes for and how their sensitivity to light shapes their interactions with their environment. "Sometimes these discoveries can also lead to novel and useful innovations years later," like an X-ray telescope which was based on lobster eyes, said Tamara Frank, a biologist at Nova Southeastern University. She and her collaborators report their findings online Sept. 6 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Frank, who led the study, has previously shown that certain deep-sea creatures can see ultraviolet wavelengths, despite living at lightless depths. Experiments to test deep-sea creatures' sensitivity to light have only been done on animals that live in the water column at these depths. The new study is one of the first to test how bottom-dwelling animals respond to light.

The scientists studied three ocean-bottom sites near the Bahamas. They took video and images of the regions, recording how crustaceans ate and the wavelengths of light, or color, at which neighboring animals glowed by bioluminescence. The scientists also captured and examined the eyes of eight crustaceans found at the sites and several other sites on earlier cruises.

To capture the crustaceans, the team used the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible. During the dive, crustaceans were gently suctioned into light-tig
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Contact: Karl Bates
karl.bates@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

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