Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 144, Issue 3, pp 271–276 | Cite as

Microspectrophotometry of the photoreceptors of palaeognathous birds — the emu and the tinamou

  • A. J. Sillman
  • D. A. Bolnick
  • L. W. Haynes
  • A. E. Walter
  • E. R. Loew


With the aid of a microspectrophotometer the visual pigments and oil globules in the retina of the emu (Dromiceius novae-hollandiae), the brushland tinamou (Nothoprocta c. cinerascens) and the Chilean tinamou (Nothoprocta perdicaria sanborni) were characterized. All three of these palaeognathous birds contain in their rods a typical rhodopsin with λmax near 500 nm. Each of these birds has cones containing iodopsin-like visual pigments with λmax in the 560–570 nm spectral region. No unequivocal evidence was obtained for the presence of cone pigments other than this iodopsin-like pigment, although one cell thought to be a cone, and containing a visual pigment with λmax near 498 nm, was observed in the retina of the brushland tinamou. The oil globule systems of the three palaeognathous species are identical to each other and are much simpler than is typical for neognathous birds in that only two different types of globule are present, one with λT50 at 508 nm and another with λT50 at 568 nm. Comparison of the data with observations made on neognathous species indicates (1) that palaeognathous birds probably have poorer color discrimination capabilities than neognathous birds and (2) that the tinamou is more closely related to the ratites than to the galliform species.


Color Retina Spectral Region Globule System Visual Pigment 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. Sillman
    • 1
  • D. A. Bolnick
    • 1
  • L. W. Haynes
    • 1
  • A. E. Walter
    • 1
  • E. R. Loew
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Animal PhysiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Division of Biological Sciences, Section of PhysiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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