Shedding light on the senses fish use for navigation

April 25, 2013
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Image: Knepp, Timothy - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

( —New research conducted at Queen's University has discovered that polarized light vision, which is used for navigation and orientation by rainbow trout, changes with age.

Young fish can navigate relative to the polarized light field in the sky, yet older fish performing intricate orientation tasks seem to lose their ability to navigate using the polarized skylight field. A research study led by Shai Sabbah in the laboratory of Craig Hawryshyn (Biology) at Queen's may help solve this mystery.

"We found that young fish use only the bottom half of their eyes to detect polarized . Remarkably, we also found that the that detects polarized light signals switches during development," says Dr. Sabbah. "Older fish lose their ability to detect polarized light signals in the bottom half of their eyes but gain the ability to detect them in the top half of their eyes."

The switch from bottom-half to top-half sensitivity allows older fish that swim in deeper water to use the underwater polarized light field, which allows for more accurate navigation. Owing to this switch, are therefore able to navigate effectively throughout their development.

Polarized light vision is the ability to distinguish between different angles of polarized light. Many invertebrates and vertebrates use this type of vision to find their way on land and through air and water.

To determine what eye region the fish were using, Dr. Sabbah and colleagues measured the from the of the fish in response to shining light at different angles of polarization on their eyes.

These findings can help solve long-standing questions regarding the senses used by salmonid fish (including rainbow trout and salmon) for navigation. These fish show one of the most complex navigation behaviours known in the .

The research appeared in the April 24 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Explore further: Beetles stand out using Avatar tech

More information:

Related Stories

Beetles stand out using Avatar tech

April 14, 2010

( -- A new study suggests that jewel scarab beetles find each other -- and hide from their enemies -- using the same technology that creates the 3D effects for the blockbuster movie Avatar.

Brain 'GPS' illuminated in migratory monarch butterflies

January 26, 2011

A new study takes a close look at the brain of the migratory monarch butterfly to better understand how these remarkable insects use an internal compass and skylight cues to navigate from eastern North America to Mexico each ...

Capturing an octopus-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef

January 27, 2012

A specialized camera that allows scientists to see as reef-dwelling animals do has been built by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol. The team will travel to Lizard Island off the coast of Queensland this year ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.