Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 178, Issue 1, pp 75–90

The visual ecology of pupillary action in superposition eyes

  • E. J. Warrant
  • P. D. McIntyre
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/BF00189592

Cite this article as:
Warrant, E.J. & McIntyre, P.D. J Comp Physiol A (1996) 178: 75. doi:10.1007/BF00189592


The two most common mechanisms of pupillary screening-pigment migration in arthropod superposition eyes are the cone and longitudinal pigment migration mechanisms. The dynamics of each were investigated by optical modelling and by determining experimentally the relationship between eye glow brightness and screening pigment position within the eyes of two representative insect species: the noctuid moth Agrotis infusa and the dung beetle Copris elphenor. During dark adaptation, in both mechanisms, the screening pigment is contracted distally to expose the proximal half of each crystalline cone. During light adaptation the pigment migrates proximally and reduces light flux in the retina. In the longitudinal mechanism, pigment migrates into the clear zone of the eye. In the cone mechanism, pigment never enters the clear zone and is instead restricted to the proximal half of each crystalline cone: a migrating sleeve of pigment creates a small aperture at the end of the crystalline cone, the area of which depends on the degree of light adaptation. According to the model, the cone mechanism provides a limited range of light attenuation (ca. 0.6 log units) for which both good spatial resolution and accuracy of control are maintained, and within this range attenuation is controlled very finely. Beyond this range, whilst attenuation is still possible, diffraction at the pigment aperture and increasing coarseness of control worsen visual performance significantly. In contrast, the longitudinal mechanism provides a much larger useful range of light attenuation (up to several log units) and maintains reasonable fineness of attenuation control over the entire range (although not as fine as the cone mechanism). The experimental results support the model. An extensive survey of arthropods with superposition eyes reveals that the cone mechanism is almost exclusively possessed by those animals experiencing a narrow range of light intensities, and the longitudinal mechanism by those experiencing a wide range.

Key words

Pupil Screening pigment migration Superposition compound eye Visual ecology Arthropod 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. J. Warrant
    • 1
  • P. D. McIntyre
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of LundLundSweden
  2. 2.Department of MathematicsUniversity College, The University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force AcademyCanberraAustralia

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