Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 204, Issue 5, pp 505–517 | Cite as

Diversity and common themes in the organization of ocelli in Hymenoptera, Odonata and Diptera

  • Willi Ribi
  • Jochen Zeil
Original Paper


We show in a comparative analysis that distinct retinal specializations in insect ocelli are much more common than previously realized and that the rhabdom organization of ocellar photoreceptors is extremely diverse. Hymenoptera, Odonata and Diptera show prominent equatorial fovea-like indentations of the ocellar retinae, where distal receptor endings are furthest removed from the lens surface and receptor densities are highest. In contrast, rhabdomere arrangements are very diverse across insect groups: in Hymenoptera, with some exceptions, pairs of ocellar retinular cells form sheet-like rhabdoms that form elongated rectangular shapes in cross-section, with highly aligned microvilli directions perpendicular to the long axis of cross-sections. This arrangement makes most ocellar retinular cells in Hymenoptera sensitive to the direction of polarized light. In dragonflies, triplets of retinular cells form a y-shaped fused rhabdom with microvilli directions oriented at 60° to each other. In Dipteran ocellar retinular cells microvilli directions are randomised, which destroys polarization sensitivity. We suggest that the differences in ocellar organization between insect groups may reflect the different head attitude control systems that have evolved in these insect groups, but possibly also differences in the mode of locomotion and in the need for celestial compass information.


Ocelli retinal specializations Ocelli rhabdom organization Hymenoptera Odonata Diptera 



We thank the ANU Centre of Advanced Microscopy (CAM) for the use of their facilities, CSIRO Entomology for identification of some insects and Michael Batley, Australian Museum, Sydney, for the identification of Amegilla. The work was made possible by financial support from the ANU endowment fund. We thank Joanne Lee (CAM), Rainer Foelix (Aarau), Hua Chun (CAM) for their help with SEM scanning, and Ladina Ribi, Sara Wood and Sharyn Wragg for preparing the drawings.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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