, Volume 125, Issue 4, pp 335-339

The refractive significance of the nictitating membrane of the bird eye

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Summary

Previous authors have suggested that in certain aquatic birds a transparent nictitating membrane of high refractive index could compensate for the refractive loss of the cornea in water. Measurements of refractive indices, refractive state and curvature carried out on a number of aquatic birds indicate that the nictitating membrane does not have a refractive function; the refractive indices of the cornea and nictitating membrane are very similar (approximately 1.37), the nictitating membrane does not alter the refractive state of the eye, and its curvature, when it is in place in front of the globe, is virtually the same as that of the cornea.

This research was supported by grants from the National Research Council of Canada and the Canadian National Sportsmen's Fund. The assistance of Mote Marine Laboratory, The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, the Niska Wildlife Foundation and the Felicadades Wildlife Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. The herring gulls and black guillemots were provided by Dr. W.B. Kinter. In addition, the authors are grateful for the assistance provided by Drs. J.L. Lincer and D. Peakall and Mr. R. Orleib.