Effects of molting on the visual acuity of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus.
In crustaceans with compound eyes, the corneal lens of each facet is part of the exoskeleton and thus shed during molting. Here we used an optomotor assay to evaluate the impact of molting on visual acuity (as measured by the minimum resolvable angle, α(min)) in the female blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. We found that visual acuity decreases substantially in the days prior to molting and is gradually recovered after molting. Four days prior to molting, α(min) was 1.8 deg (N=5), a value approximating the best possible acuity in this species. In the 24 h before ecdysis occurred, α(min) increased to 15.0 deg (N=12), corresponding to an eightfold drop in visual acuity. Within 6 days after molting, α(min) returned to the pre-molting value. Micrographs of C. sapidus eyes showed that a gap between the corneal lens and the crystalline cone first appeared approximately 5 days prior to shedding and increased in width as the process progressed. This separation was likely responsible for the loss of visual acuity observed in behavioral tests. In blue crabs, mating is limited to the period of the female's pubertal molt, and a reduction in acuity during this time may have an effect on the sensory cues used in female mate choice. The results described here may be broadly applicable to all arthropods that molt and have particular importance for crustaceans that molt multiple times in their lifetime or have mating cycles that are paired with molting.
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