Crab eyes help figure how humans react to dangers

Sydney, Nov 24 ( Looking through crab eyes helps scientists figure out how animals and humans react to threats.

A new study throws light on the complex process that enables animals to learn which objects they can ignore and which they need to heed.

This process, called habituation, occurs in all animals — but how it happens in natural situations is still poorly understood, says Jan Hemmi of The Vision Centre and Australian National University (ANU), who conducted the study with Tobias Merkle.

“For animals, accurately learning which objects are threats and which aren’t is crucial to their survival. If they accidentally ignore a predator they will be killed.”

“Humans have the same issue — everything is constantly moving around us and we need to learn to ignore events that are not important. This study may help us find out how that’s done,” says Hemmi.

Understanding how animals learn which objects they need to be wary of could be used in the future to improve robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), he adds.

“A big difference between robots and animals is that animals are constantly learning about their surroundings — more and more, scientists are trying to incorporate this learning process into robots.”

The fiddler crab was an ideal model animal with which to test the process of habituation in a natural situation, as it is possible to accurately work out what the animals are able to see while making a decision, says Hemmi, according to an ANU release.

The crabs are constantly threatened by birds flying overhead and people visiting the beach. After around 10 minutes crabs can become accustomed to people near them, but will still run to their burrows when birds fly overhead, he adds.

These findings were published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Studies.