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Predation risk imposes strong selection pressures on visual systems to quickly and accurately identify the position and movement of potential predators.1,2 Many invertebrates and other small animals, however, have limited capacity for distance perception due to their low spatial resolution and closely situated eyes.3,4 Consequently, they often rely on simplified decision criteria, essentially heuristics or "rules of thumb", to make decisions. The visual cues animals use to make escape decisions are surprisingly consistent, especially among arthropods, with the timing of escape commonly triggered by size-dependent visual cues such as angular size or angular size increment.5,6,7,8,9,10 Angular size, however, confuses predator size and distance and provides no information about the speed of the attack. Here, we show that fiddler crabs (Gelasimus dampieri) are unique among the arthropods studied to date as they timed their escape response based on the speed of an object's angular expansion. The crabs responded reliably by running away from visual stimuli that expanded at approximately 1.7 degrees/s, irrespective of stimulus size, speed, or its initial distance from the crabs. Though the threshold expansion speed was consistent across different stimulus conditions, we found that the escape timing was modulated by the elevation at which the stimulus approached, suggesting that other risk factors can bias the expansion speed threshold. The results suggest that the visual escape cues used by arthropods are less conserved than previously thought and that lifestyle and environment are significant drivers determining the escape cues used by different species.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Biol

Publication Date





5159 - 5164.e4


angular size, angular speed, collision-avoidance, decision making, escape behavior, invertebrate vision, looming stimuli, object detection, predator-prey interaction, Visual Perception, Behavior, Animal, Brachyura