Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 104, Issue 3, pp 225–245 | Cite as

Twisted and non-twisted rhabdoms and their significance for polarization detection in the bee

  • Rüdiger Wehner
  • Gary D. Bernard
  • Esther Geiger


  1. 1.

    In the dorsal retina of the worker bee twisted and non-twisted rhabdoms (resp. retinulae) are analysed by serial LM- and EM-reconstructions. The straight retinulae restricted to the most dorsal 4–5 horizontal rows of ommatidia contain 9 long visual cells, whereas the twisted retinulae are composed of 8 long cells (nos. 1–8) and one basal short visual cell (cell no. 9). The ninth cell and two of the overlying long twisted cells (nos. 1 and 2) are ultraviolet cells (UV cells) which are the only receptors engaged in polarized light detection.

  2. 2.

    By rhabdom geometry two mirror-imaged types of rhabdoms can be discriminated (X- andY-type), which are randomly distributed in the retina. One class of retinulae twists clockwise, the other counterclockwise. The twist rate amounts to about 1°μm−1. The total twist angle is about 180° for the long and about 40° for the small UV cells.

  3. 3.

    In the focal plane of the dorsal part of the retina the microvilli of the long UV cells are all oriented perpendicularly to the horizontalz-axis of the eye. The basal ninth cells replace one of the overlying long UV cells. At their tips, the microvilli are also perpendicularly oriented to thez-axis.

  4. 4.

    By optical analysis polarization sensitivity (PS) and direction for maximum sensitivity (Φmax) are computed for the long as well as for the short UV cells. If the effective birefringence of the rhabdom is very low PS of the long twisted UV cell decreases to unity. However, PS of the short basal UV cells remains pronounced (PS=4.2 for a dichroic ratio of 5 and 7.1 for a dichroic ratio of 10).

    As birefringence increases, PS of the long, twisted UV cells increases, but PS of the short ninth cell first decreases to a minimum PS-value of near unity before increasing to high values. We propose the hypothesis that the overall birefringence of the bee's fused rhabdoms is very low (Δn<10−3).

  5. 5.

    For low birefringence the two types of short, ninth cells are maximally sensitive at planes that differ by 36°.

  6. 6.

    Histological as well as optical analysis suggest a minimum model fore-vector detection involving the UV receptors of only two twisted ommatidia: two ninth cells of different twist type act as polarization sensitive channels and the long UV cell(s) as a polarization insensitive channel.



Retina Polarization Sensitivity Visual Cell Polarization Detection Dichroic Ratio 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rüdiger Wehner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gary D. Bernard
    • 1
    • 2
  • Esther Geiger
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Section of NeurobiologyUniversity of ZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Ophthalmology and Visual ScienceYale Medical SchoolNew HavenUSA

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