Seeing with your brain

Donohue, Cohen, & Cronin show that mantis shrimp have functional photoreceptors in their brains, adding to the long list of animals that express opsins in unintuitive places (including abdomens, feet and genitals).

The currently unsurpassed diversity of photoreceptors found in the eyes of stomatopods, or mantis shrimps, is achieved through a variety of opsin-based visual pigments and optical filters. However, the presence of extraocular photoreceptors in these crustaceans is undescribed. Opsins have been found in extraocular tissues across animal taxa, but their functions are often unknown. Here, we show that the mantis shrimp Neogonodactylus oerstedii has functional cerebral photoreceptors, which expands the suite of mechanisms by which mantis shrimp sense light. Illumination of extraocular photoreceptors elicits behaviors akin to common arthropod escape responses, which persist in blinded individuals. The anterior central nervous system, which is illuminated when a mantis shrimp’s cephalothorax protrudes from its burrow to search for predators, prey, or mates, appears to be photosensitive and to feature two types of opsin-based, potentially histaminergic photoreceptors. A pigmented ventral eye that may be capable of color discrimination extends from the cerebral ganglion, or brain, against the transparent outer carapace, and exhibits a rapid electrical response when illuminated. Additionally, opsins and histamine are expressed in several locations of the eyestalks and cerebral ganglion, where any photoresponses could contribute to shelter-seeking behaviors and other functions.

July 16, 2018


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