Psychology Wiki

Nonmamnalian eye anatomy

34,203pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Biological: Behavioural genetics · Evolutionary psychology · Neuroanatomy · Neurochemistry · Neuroendocrinology · Neuroscience · Psychoneuroimmunology · Physiological Psychology · Psychopharmacology (Index, Outline)

For details of the mammalian eye see (Eye (anatomy)

The first proto-eyes evolved among animals 600 million years ago, about the time of the Cambrian explosion.[1] The last common ancestor of animals possessed the biochemical toolkit necessary for vision, and more advanced eyes have evolved

In most vertebrates and some molluscs, the eye works by allowing light to enter and project onto a light-sensitive panel of cells, known as the retina, at the rear of the eye. The cone cells (for colour) and the rod cells (for low-light contrasts) in the retina detect and convert light into neural signals for vision. The visual signals are then transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. Such eyes are typically roughly spherical, filled with a transparent gel-like substance called the vitreous humour, with a focusing lens and often an iris; the relaxing or tightening of the muscles around the iris change the size of the pupil, thereby regulating the amount of light that enters the eye,[2] and reducing aberrations when there is enough light.[3]

The eyes of most cephalopods, fish, amphibians and snakes have fixed lens shapes, and focusing vision is achieved by telescoping the lens—similar to how a camera focuses.[4]

Compound eyes are found among the arthropods and are composed of many simple facets which, depending on the details of anatomy, may give either a single pixelated image or multiple images, per eye. Each sensor has its own lens and photosensitive cell(s). Some eyes have up to 28,000 such sensors, which are arranged hexagonally, and which can give a full 360° field of vision. Compound eyes are very sensitive to motion. Some arthropods, including many Strepsiptera, have compound eyes of only a few facets, each with a retina capable of creating an image, creating vision. With each eye viewing a different thing, a fused image from all the eyes is produced in the brain, providing very different, high-resolution images.

Possessing detailed hyperspectral colour vision, the Mantis shrimp has been reported to have the world's most complex colour vision system.[5]

In contrast to compound eyes, simple eyes are those that have a single lens. For example, jumping spiders have a large pair of simple eyes with a narrow field of view, supported by an array of other, smaller eyes for peripheral vision. Some insect larvae, like caterpillars, have a different type of simple eye (stemmata) which gives a rough image. Some of the simplest eyes, called ocelli, can be found in animals like some of the snails, which cannot actually "see" in the normal sense. They do have photosensitive cells, but no lens and no other means of projecting an image onto these cells. They can distinguish between light and dark, but no more. This enables snails to keep out of direct sunlight. In organisms dwelling near deep-sea vents, compound eyes have been secondarily simplified and adapted to spot the infra-red light produced by the hot vents–in this way the bearers can spot hot springs and avoid being boiled alive.[6]

Types of eyeEdit

There are ten different eye layouts—indeed every way of capturing an optical image commonly used by human beings, with the exceptions of zoom and Fresnel lenses. Eye types can be categorised into "simple eyes", with one concave photoreceptive surface, and "compound eyes", which comprise a number of individual lenses laid out on a convex surface.[7] Note that "simple" does not imply a reduced level of complexity or acuity. Indeed, any eye type can be adapted for almost any behaviour or environment. The only limitations specific to eye types are that of resolution—the physics of compound eyes prevents them from achieving a resolution better than 1°. Also, superposition eyes can achieve greater sensitivity than apposition eyes, so are better suited to dark-dwelling creatures.[7] Eyes also fall into two groups on the basis of their photoreceptor's cellular construction, with the photoreceptor cells either being cilliated (as in the vertebrates) or rhabdomeric. These two groups are not monophyletic; the cnidaria also possess cilliated cells, [8] and some annelids possess both.[9]

Non-compound eyesEdit

Simple eyes are rather ubiquitous, and lens-bearing eyes have evolved at least seven times in vertebrates, cephalopods, annelids, crustaceans and cubozoa.[10]

Pit eyesEdit

Pit eyes, also known as stemma, are eye-spots which may be set into a pit to reduce the angles of light that enters and affects the eyespot, to allow the organism to deduce the angle of incoming light.[7] Found in about 85% of phyla, these basic forms were probably the precursors to more advanced types of "simple eye". They are small, comprising up to about 100 cells covering about 100 µm.[7] The directionality can be improved by reducing the size of the aperture, by incorporating a reflective layer behind the receptor cells, or by filling the pit with a refractile material.[7]

Pit vipers have developed pits that function as eyes by sensing thermal infra-red radiation, in addition to their optical wavelength eyes like those of other vertebrates.

Spherical lensed eyeEdit

The resolution of pit eyes can be greatly improved by incorporating a material with a higher refractive index to form a lens, which may greatly reduce the blur radius encountered—hence increasing the resolution obtainable.[7] The most basic form, seen in some gastropods and annelids, consists of a lens of one refractive index. A far sharper image can be obtained using materials with a high refractive index, decreasing to the edges; this decreases the focal length and thus allows a sharp image to form on the retina.[7] This also allows a larger aperture for a given sharpness of image, allowing more light to enter the lens; and a flatter lens, reducing spherical aberration.[7] Such an inhomogeneous lens is necessary in order for the focal length to drop from about 4 times the lens radius, to 2.5 radii.[7]

Heterogeneous eyes have evolved at least nine times: four or more times in gastropods, once in the copepods, once in the annelids, once in the cephalopods,[7] and once in the chitons, which have aragonite lenses.[11] No aquatic organisms possess homogeneous lenses; presumably the evolutionary pressure for a heterogeneous lens is great enough for this stage to be quickly "outgrown".[7]

This eye creates an image that is sharp enough that motion of the eye can cause significant blurring. To minimise the effect of eye motion while the animal moves, most such eyes have stabilising eye muscles.[7]

The ocelli of insects bear a simple lens, but their focal point always lies behind the retina; consequently they can never form a sharp image. This capitulates the function of the eye. Ocelli (pit-type eyes of arthropods) blur the image across the whole retina, and are consequently excellent at responding to rapid changes in light intensity across the whole visual field; this fast response is further accelerated by the large nerve bundles which rush the information to the brain.[12] Focusing the image would also cause the sun's image to be focused on a few receptors, with the possibility of damage under the intense light; shielding the receptors would block out some light and thus reduce their sensitivity.[12] This fast response has led to suggestions that the ocelli of insects are used mainly in flight, because they can be used to detect sudden changes in which way is up (because light, especially UV light which is absorbed by vegetation, usually comes from above).[12]

Multiple lensesEdit

Some marine organisms bear more than one lens; for instance the copepod Pontella has three. The outer has a parabolic surface, countering the effects of spherical aberration while allowing a sharp image to be formed. Another copepod, Copilia, has two lenses in each eye, arranged like those in a telescope.[7] Such arrangements are rare and poorly understood, but represent an interesting alternative construction. An interesting use of multiple lenses is seen in some hunters such as eagles and jumping spiders, which have a refractive cornea (discussed next): these have a negative lens, enlarging the observed image by up to 50% over the receptor cells, thus increasing their optical resolution.[7]

Refractive corneaEdit

In the eyes of most mammals, birds, reptiles, and most other terrestrial vertebrates (along with spiders and some insect larvae) the vitreous fluid has a higher refractive index than the air.[7] In general, the lens is not spherical. Spherical lenses produce spherical aberration. In refractive corneas, the lens tissue is corrected with inhomogeneous lens material (see Luneburg lens), or with an aspheric shape.[7] Flattening the lens has a disadvantage; the quality of vision is diminished away from the main line of focus. Thus, animals that have evolved with a wide field-of-view often have eyes that make use of an inhomogeneous lens.[7]

As mentioned above, a refractive cornea is only useful out of water; in water, there is little difference in refractive index between the vitreous fluid and the surrounding water. Hence creatures that have returned to the water – penguins and seals, for example – lose their highly curved cornea and return to lens-based vision. An alternative solution, borne by some divers, is to have a very strongly focusing cornea.[7]

Reflector eyesEdit

An alternative to a lens is to line the inside of the eye with " mirrors", and reflect the image to focus at a central point.[7] The nature of these eyes means that if one were to peer into the pupil of an eye, one would see the same image that the organism would see, reflected back out.[7]

Many small organisms such as rotifers, copepods and platyhelminths use such organs, but these are too small to produce usable images.[7] Some larger organisms, such as scallops, also use reflector eyes. The scallop Pecten has up to 100 millimetre-scale reflector eyes fringing the edge of its shell. It detects moving objects as they pass successive lenses.[7]

There is at least one vertebrate, the spookfish, whose eyes include reflective optics for focusing of light. Each of the two eyes of a spookfish collects light from both above and below; the light coming from above is focused by a lens, while that coming from below, by a curved mirror composed of many layers of small reflective plates made of guanine crystals.[13]

Compound eyesEdit

File:FLY EYE.jpg
File:Compound eye1.jpg
File:Calliphora vomitoria Portrait.jpg

A compound eye may consist of thousands of individual photoreceptor units or ommatidia (ommatidium, singular). The image perceived is a combination of inputs from the numerous ommatidia (individual "eye units"), which are located on a convex surface, thus pointing in slightly different directions. Compared with simple eyes, compound eyes possess a very large view angle, and can detect fast movement and, in some cases, the polarisation of light.[14] (Even the trained human eye can determine the orientation of polarized light which manifests in a phenomenon called Haidinger's brush.) Because the individual lenses are so small, the effects of diffraction impose a limit on the possible resolution that can be obtained (assuming that they do not function as phased arrays). This can only be countered by increasing lens size and number. To see with a resolution comparable to our simple eyes, humans would require ridiculously large compound eyes, around 11 m in radius.[15]

Compound eyes fall into two groups: apposition eyes, which form multiple inverted images, and superposition eyes, which form a single erect image.[16] Compound eyes are common in arthropods, and are also present in annelids and some bivalved molluscs.[17] Compound eyes, in arthropods at least, grow at their margins by the addition of new ommatidia.[18]

Apposition eyesEdit

Apposition eyes are the most common form of eye, and are presumably the ancestral form of compound eye. They are found in all arthropod groups, although they may have evolved more than once within this phylum.[7] Some annelids and bivalves also have apposition eyes. They are also possessed by Limulus, the horseshoe crab, and there are suggestions that other chelicerates developed their simple eyes by reduction from a compound starting point.[7] (Some caterpillars appear to have evolved compound eyes from simple eyes in the opposite fashion.)

Apposition eyes work by gathering a number of images, one from each eye, and combining them in the brain, with each eye typically contributing a single point of information.

File:Musca domestica Portrait.jpg

The typical apposition eye has a lens focusing light from one direction on the rhabdom, while light from other directions is absorbed by the dark wall of the ommatidium. In the other kind of apposition eye, found in the Strepsiptera, lenses are not fused to one another, and each forms an entire image; these images are combined in the brain. This is called the schizochroal compound eye or the neural superposition eye. Because images are combined additively, this arrangement allows vision under lower light levels.[7]

Superposition eyesEdit

The second type is named the superposition eye. The superposition eye is divided into three types; the refracting, the reflecting and the parabolic superposition eye. The refracting superposition eye has a gap between the lens and the rhabdom, and no side wall. Each lens takes light at an angle to its axis and reflects it to the same angle on the other side. The result is an image at half the radius of the eye, which is where the tips of the rhabdoms are. This type of compound eye is normally found in nocturnal insects because it can create images up to 1000 times brighter than equivalent apposition eyes, though at the cost of reduced resolution.[19] In the parabolic superposition compound eye type, seen in arthropods such as mayflies, the parabolic surfaces of the inside of each facet focus light from a reflector to a sensor array. Long-bodied decapod crustaceans such as shrimp, prawns, crayfish and lobsters are alone in having reflecting superposition eyes, which also have a transparent gap but use corner mirrors instead of lenses.

Parabolic superpositionEdit

This eye type functions by refracting light, then using a parabolic mirror to focus the image; it combines features of superposition and apposition eyes.[6]


Good fliers such as flies or honey bees, or prey-catching insects such as praying mantis or dragonflies, have specialised zones of ommatidia organised into a fovea area which gives acute vision. In the acute zone the eyes are flattened and the facets larger. The flattening allows more ommatidia to receive light from a spot and therefore higher resolution. The black spot that can be seen on the compound eyes of such insects, which always seems to look directly at the observer, is called a pseudopupil. This occurs because the ommatidia which one observes "head-on" (along their optical axes) absorb the incident light, while those to one side reflect it.[20]

There are some exceptions from the types mentioned above. Some insects have a so-called single lens compound eye, a transitional type which is something between a superposition type of the multi-lens compound eye and the single lens eye found in animals with simple eyes. Then there is the mysid shrimp Dioptromysis paucispinosa. The shrimp has an eye of the refracting superposition type, in the rear behind this in each eye there is a single large facet that is three times in diameter the others in the eye and behind this is an enlarged crystalline cone. This projects an upright image on a specialised retina. The resulting eye is a mixture of a simple eye within a compound eye.

Another version is the pseudofaceted eye, as seen in Scutigera. This type of eye consists of a cluster of numerous ocelli on each side of the head, organised in a way that resembles a true compound eye.

The body of Ophiocoma wendtii, a type of brittle star, is covered with ommatidia, turning its whole skin into a compound eye. The same is true of many chitons. The tube feet of sea urchins contain photoreceptor proteins, which together act as a compound eye; they lack screening pigments, but can detect the directionality of light by the shadow cast by its opaque body.[21]


The ciliary body is triangular in horizontal section and is coated by a double layer, the ciliary epithelium. The inner layer is transparent and covers the vitreous body, and is continuous from the neural tissue of the retina. The outer layer is highly pigmented, continuous with the retinal pigment epithelium, and constitutes the cells of the dilator muscle.

The vitreous is the transparent, colourless, gelatinous mass that fills the space between the lens of the eye and the retina lining the back of the eye.[22] It is produced by certain retinal cells. It is of rather similar composition to the cornea, but contains very few cells (mostly phagocytes which remove unwanted cellular debris in the visual field, as well as the hyalocytes of Balazs of the surface of the vitreous, which reprocess the hyaluronic acid), no blood vessels, and 98-99% of its volume is water (as opposed to 75% in the cornea) with salts, sugars, vitrosin (a type of collagen), a network of collagen type II fibres with the mucopolysaccharide hyaluronic acid, and also a wide array of proteins in micro amounts. Amazingly, with so little solid matter, it tautly holds the eye.

See alsoEdit


  1. Breitmeyer, Bruno (2010). Blindspots: The Many Ways We Cannot See, New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Nairne, James (2005). Psychology, Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.
  3. Vicki Bruce, Patrick R. Green, and Mark A. Georgeson (1996). Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology, Psychology Press.
  4. BioMedia Associates Educational Biology Site: What animal has a more sophisticated eye, Octopus or Insect?
  5. Who You Callin' "Shrimp"? – National Wildlife Magazine. URL accessed on 2012-09-01.
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Cronin2008
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Land1992
  8. DOI:10.1073/pnas.0800388105 10.1073/pnas.0800388105
    This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand
  9. Fernald, Russell D. (September 2006). Casting a Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes. Science 313 (5795): 1914–1918.
  10. Dan-E. Nilsson (1989). Vision optics and evolution. BioScience 39 (5): 298–307.
  11. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.033
    This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Wilson, M. (1978). The functional organisation of locust ocelli. Journal of Comparative Physiology 124 (4): 297–316.
  13. Wagner, H.J., Douglas, R.H., Frank, T.M., Roberts, N.W., and Partridge, J.C. (Jan. 27, 2009). A Novel Vertebrate Eye Using Both Refractive and Reflective Optics. Current Biology 19 (2): 108–114.
  14. (June 2003). Miniaturized imaging systems. Microelectronic Engineering 67–68 (1): 461–472.
  15. Land, Michael (1997). Visual Acuity in Insects. Annual Reviews Entomology 42.
  16. Gaten, Edward (1998). Optics and phylogeny: is there an insight? The evolution of superposition eyes in the Decapoda (Crustacea). Contributions to Zoology 67 (4): 223–236.
  17. Ritchie, Alexander (1985). Ainiktozoon loganense Scourfield, a protochordate? from the Silurian of Scotland. Alcheringa 9 (2).
  18. Mayer, G. (2006). Structure and development of onychophoran eyes: What is the ancestral visual organ in arthropods?. Arthropod Structure and Development 35 (4): 231–245.
  20. Jochen Zeil & Maha M. Al-Mutairi (1996). Variations in the optical properties of the compound eyes of Uca lactea annulipes. The Journal of Experimental Biology 199 (7): 1569–1577.
  21. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1018495108
    This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand
  22. Ali & Klyne 1985
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki