Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 191, Issue 10, pp 925–932 | Cite as

The cone photoreceptors and visual pigments of chameleons

  • James K. BowmakerEmail author
  • Ellis R. Loew
  • Matthias Ott
Original Paper


Visual pigments, oil droplets and photoreceptor types in the retinas of four species of true chameleons have been examined by microspectrophotometry. The species occupy different photic environments: two species of Chamaeleo are from Madagascar and two species of Furcifer are from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to double cones, four spectrally distinct classes of single cone were identified. No rod photoreceptors were observed. The visual pigments appear to be mixtures of rhodopsins and porphyropsins. Double cones contained a pale oil droplet in the principle member and both outer segments contained a long-wave-sensitive visual pigment with a spectral maximum between about 555 nm and 610 nm, depending on the rhodopsin/porphyropsin mixture. Long-wave-sensitive single cones contained a visual pigment spectrally identical to the double cones, but combined with a yellow oil droplet. The other three classes of single cone contained visual pigments with maxima at about 480–505, 440–450 and 375–385 nm, combined with yellow, clear and transparent oil droplets respectively. The latter two classes were sparsely distributed. The transmission of the lens and cornea of C. dilepis was measured and found to be transparent throughout the visible and near ultraviolet, with a cut off at about 350 nm.


Visual pigment Photoreceptor Oil droplet Chameleon Colour vision 





Wavelength on maximum absorbance of visual pigment


Cut-off wavelength of oil droplet








Ultraviolet sensitive


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • James K. Bowmaker
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ellis R. Loew
    • 2
  • Matthias Ott
    • 3
  1. 1.Division of Visual Science, Institute of OphthalmologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical SciencesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Anatomisches InstitutUniversität TübingenTübingenGermany

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