Polarization signals in the marine environment Academic Article uri icon


  • Although natural light sources produce depolarized light, partially linearly polarized light is naturally abundant in the scenes animals view, being produced by scattering in air or water or by reflection from shiny surfaces. Many species of animals are sensitive to light's polarization, and use this sensitivity to orient themselves using polarization patterns in the atmosphere or underwater. A few animal species have been shown to take this polarization sensitivity to another level of sophistication, seeing the world as a polarization image, analogous to the color images humans and other animals view. This sensory capacity has been incorporated into biological signals by a smaller assortment of species, who use patterns of polarization on their bodies to communicate with conspecific animals. In other words, they use polarization patterns for tasks similar to those for which other animals use biologically produced color patterns. Polarization signals are particularly useful in marine environments, where the spectrum of incident light is variable and unpredictable. Here, cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish) and stomatopod crustaceans (mantis shrimps) have developed striking patterns of polarization used in communication.

publication date

  • January 1, 2003