a1 Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville
a2 Institute for Sensory Research, Syracuse University, Syracuse
a3 Department of Zoology, University of Maine, Orono
A circadian clock modulates the structure and function of the lateral eyes of Limulus polyphemus, greatly increasing their sensitivity at night. During the mating season, male Limulus are visually attracted both day and night to females and objects that resemble females. This paper asks how well Limulus can see day and night, and whether the circadian changes in retinal sensitivity might influence the ability of these animals to find mates. We recorded the visual behavior of male and female horseshoe crabs in the vicinity of an object – a cement hemisphere (29.5 cm diameter) similar in size and shape to a female horseshoe crab – placed in a mating area near Mashnee Dike, Bourne, Massachusetts. Males oriented toward this target from an average distance of 0.94 m during the day and 0.88 m at night; and females appeared to avoid the target. We conclude that males can see potential mates at night almost as well as they can during the day. Apparently the circadian changes in the retina help compensate for the daily changes in illumination in the animal's normal environment. This study provides the first evidence for a role of visual circadian rhythms in an animal's natural behavior.
(Received May 08 1990)
(Accepted February 11 1991)
Reprint requests to: Maureen K. Powers, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.