Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 3, pp 321–331 | Cite as

Physiological characterization of the compound eye in monarch butterflies with focus on the dorsal rim area

  • Julia Stalleicken
  • Thomas Labhart
  • Henrik Mouritsen
Original Paper


The spectral, angular and polarization sensitivities of photoreceptors in the compound eye of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) are examined using electrophysiological methods. Intracellular recordings reveal a spectrally homogenous population of UV receptors with optical axes directed upwards and ≥10° to the contralateral side. Based on optical considerations and on the opsin expression pattern (Sauman et al. 2005), we conclude that these UV receptors belong to the anatomically specialized dorsal rim area (DRA) of the eye. Photoreceptors in the main retina with optical axes <10° contralateral or ipsilateral have maximal sensitivities in the UV (λmax≤340 nm), the blue (λmax=435 nm) or in the long-wave range (green, λmax=540 nm). The polarization sensitivity (PS) of the UV receptors in the DRA is much higher (PS=9.4) than in the UV cells (PS=2.9) or green cells (PS=2.8) of the main retina. The physiological properties of the photoreceptors in the DRA and in the main retina fit closely with the anatomy and the opsin expression patterns described in these eye regions. The data are discussed in the light of present knowledge about polarized skylight navigation in Lepidopterans.


Danaus plexippus Compound eye Dorsal rim area Polarization sensitivity Spectral sensitivity 



Dorsal area


Dorsal rim area




Polarization sensitivity



The Volkswagen Stiftung (Nachwuchsgruppe grant to H. M.), University of Oldenburg (to H. M. and J. S.), the DAAD (to J. S.) and the Swiss National Science Foundation grant 31-61844.00 (to T. L.) kindly provided financial support for this project. We would like to thank Gary D. Bernard for fruitful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Stalleicken
    • 1
  • Thomas Labhart
    • 2
  • Henrik Mouritsen
    • 1
  1. 1.VW Nachwuchsgruppe Animal Navigation, IBUUniversity of OldenburgOldenburgGermany
  2. 2.Zoological InstituteUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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