Form perception from coherent motion is an important aspect of vision. Representations of one-, two- and three-dimensional forms have been found at various stages of cortical processing using random-dot stimuli, whereas representations of biological objects like a walking human being concentrate at higher stages of processing. The perception of biological objects can be induced by sparse dot stimuli that consist of a few dots that mark the joints of the human body [G. Johansson (1973) Percept. Psychophys., 14, 201–211]. In the present study, we aimed to investigate whether neurons in early visual areas that respond to bars and edges defined by luminance contrast also signal bar-like objects from sparse dot stimuli. We studied single neurons with rows of 3–24 dots that were either collinear or scattered within a rectangular form. These dots were moved coherently on a uniform or dotted background, and human observers perceived them as rigid rods or other bar-like objects. We found neurons in the visual cortex of the awake, behaving monkey that responded to these stimuli and were sensitive to the orientation of these objects as for conventional bars or edges. Stimulus conditions that failed to induce these percepts in human observers also evoked weaker responses or none in these neurons. We found these neurons with increasing frequency in areas V1, V2 and V3/V3A. The results suggest that the visual cortex not only detects biological objects, but also lines and other bar-like objects from sparse dot stimuli, and that this function evolves at an early stage of processing.