Polarization signals in the marine environment

Thomas W. Cronin, Nadav Shashar, Roy L. Caldwell, Justin Marshall, Alexander G. Cheroske, Tsyr Huei Chiou

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes
EventPolarization Science and Remote Sensing - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: 3 Aug 20035 Aug 2003


  • Biological signal
  • Marine animal
  • Polarization sensitivity
  • Polarization vision
  • Polarized light

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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