Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 316, Issue 3, pp 377–390 | Cite as

Retinal and optical adaptations for nocturnal vision in the halictid bee Megalopta genalis

  • Birgit Greiner
  • Willi A. Ribi
  • Eric J. Warrant
Regular Article


The apposition compound eye of a nocturnal bee, the halictid Megalopta genalis, is described for the first time. Compared to the compound eye of the worker honeybee Apis mellifera and the diurnal halictid bee Lasioglossum leucozonium, the eye of M. genalis shows specific retinal and optical adaptations for vision in dim light. The major anatomical adaptations within the eye of the nocturnal bee are (1) nearly twofold larger ommatidial facets and (2) a 4–5 times wider rhabdom diameter than found in the diurnal bees studied. Optically, the apposition eye of M. genalis is 27 times more sensitive to light than the eyes of the diurnal bees. This increased optical sensitivity represents a clear optical adaptation to low light intensities. Although this unique nocturnal apposition eye has a greatly improved ability to catch light, a 27-fold increase in sensitivity alone cannot account for nocturnal vision at light intensities that are 8 log units dimmer than during daytime. New evidence suggests that additional neuronal spatial summation within the first optic ganglion, the lamina, is involved.


Visual system Nocturnal vision Apposition compound eye Retina structure Dim light Megalopta genalis (Insecta) 



We would like to thank Almut Kelber, Doekele Stavenga, Mark Holdstock and the two anonymous referees for critically reading the manuscript, Ladina Ribi for the taxonomic drawing of Megalopta, Rita Wallén and Carin Rasmussen for histological and technical support, Rikard Frederiksen for help with the corneal replicas, Mikael Sörenson and Jan Tengö for taxonomical help, as well as Victor Gonzales and Sara Juhl for help with fieldwork. We thank William T. Wcislo and the staff of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama City, for their help and the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente of the Republic of Panama for permission to export bees. The histological work was partly done at the Center for Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological Science, Australian National University, Canberra.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Birgit Greiner
    • 1
  • Willi A. Ribi
    • 2
  • Eric J. Warrant
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cell and Organism BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.University of Human Sciences of the Principality of LiechtensteinTriesenPrincipality of Liechtenstein

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