With an instrument that can record the motion of both cilia of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii for many hours, the behavioral differences of its two cilia have been studied to determine their specific role in phototaxis. The organism was held on a fixed micropipette with the plane of ciliary beating rotated into the imaging plane of a quadrant photodetector. The responses to square-wave light patterns of a wide range of temporal frequencies were used to characterize the responses of each cilium. Eighty-one cells were examined showing an unexpectedly diverse range of responses. Plausible common signals for the linear and nonlinear signals from the cell body are suggested. Three independent ciliary measures--the beat frequency, stroke velocity, and phasing of the two cilia--have been identified. The cell body communicates to the cilia the direction of phototaxis the cell desires to go, the absolute light intensity, and the appropriate graded transient response for tracking the light source. The complexity revealed by each measure of the ciliary response indicates many independent variables are involved in the net phototactic response. In spite of their morphological similarity, the two cilia of Chlamydomonas respond uniquely. Probably the signals from the cell body fan out to independent pathways in the cilia. Each cilium modifies the input in its own way. The change in the pattern of the effective and recovery strokes of each cilium associated with negative phototaxis has been demonstrated and its involvement in phototactic turning is described. Copyright (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.