Polarization Sensitivity in Reptiles

  • Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow
Part of the Springer Series in Vision Research book series (SSVR, volume 2)


Somewhat questionable evidence in support of reptilian polarization sensitivity (PS) has come from field and laboratory observations on the behaviour of a few species of marine and freshwater turtles. More convincing are conclusions based on PS-aided orientation in the lizards Uma notata, Tiliqua rugosa and Podarcis sicula. It is suggested that submersed hunters like, for instance, sea snakes ought to be included in examinations for PS since contrast enhancement by PS under water could bestow some benefits to them during food procurement. Courtship displays in certain species of lizards could also contain signals for which the presence of PS would be advantageous, but as yet polarization signals have not been demonstrated in any species. Results based on electrophysiological recordings to demonstrate PS in photoreceptors of the lateral eyes or pineal organs are scant and a connection between PS and magnetoreception is regarded as likely.


Courtship Display Polarization Sensitivity Marine Turtle Freshwater Turtle Garter Snake 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I wish to thank Prof. Hong Yang Yan (Taiwan National Academy of Science) for valuable hints on relevant literature and Jacobs University Bremen for the support I received while on sabbatical. I am grateful to Dr. Peter Stoeckl (Vienna, Austria) for having made available the photograph in Fig. 11.1, and I thank Professor G. Horváth for having invited me to contribute to this book.


  1. Adler K, Phillips JB (1985) Orientation in a desert lizard (Uma notata): time-compensated compass movement and polarotaxis. J Comp Physiol A 156:547–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ammermüller J, Kolb H (1996) Functional architecture of the turtle retina. Prog Retin Eye Res 15:393–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Avens L, Lohmann KJ (2003) Use of multiple orientation cues by juvenile loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). J Exp Biol 206:4317–4325PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bajer K, Molnár O, Török J, Herczeg G (2011) Ultraviolet nuptial colour determines fight success in male European green lizards (Lacerta viridis). Biol Lett 7:866–868PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Beltrani G, Bertolucci C, Parretta A, Petrucci F, Foa A (2010) A sky polarization compass in lizards: the central role of the parietal eye. J Exp Biol 213:2048–2054CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beltrani G, Parretta A, Petrucci F, Buttini P, Bertolucci C, Foa A (2012) The lizard celestial compass detects linearly polarized light in the blue. J Exp Biol 215:3200–3206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chelazzi G (1992) Reptiles. In: Papi F (ed) Animal homing. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 235–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ehrenfeld DW (1968) The role of vision in the sea-finding orientation of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). 2. Orientation mechanism and range of spectral sensitivity. Anim Behav 16:281–287PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ehrenfeld DW, Carr A (1967) The role of vision in the sea-finding orientation of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). Anim Behav 15:25–36PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ellingson JM, Fleishman LJ, Loew ER (1995) Visual pigments and spectral sensitivity of the diurnal gecko Gonatodes albogularis. J Comp Physiol A 177:559–567PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ellis-Quinn BA, Simon CA (1991) Lizard homing behaviour: the role of the parietal eye during displacement and radio-tracking, and time-compensated celestial orientation in the lizard Sceloporus jarrovi. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 28:397–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Emlen ST (1969) Homing ability and orientation in the painted turtle, Chrysemys picta marginata. Behaviour 33:58–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foa A, Basaglia F, Beltrani G, Carnacina M, Moretto E, Bertolucci C (2009) Orientation of lizards in a Morris water-maze: roles of the sun compass and the parietal eye. J Exp Biol 212:2918–2994PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Freake MJ (1999) Homing behaviour in the sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa): the role of visual cues and the parietal eye. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:563–569Google Scholar
  15. Graham T, Georges A, Mc Elhinney N (1996) Terrestrial orientation in the eastern long-necked turtle, Chelodina longicollis, from Australia. J Herpetol 30:467–477CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hillenius WJ, Rehorek SJ (2005) From the eye to the nose: ancient orbital to vomeronasal communication in tetrapods? Chem Signal Vert 10:228–241Google Scholar
  17. Horváth G, Varjú D (2004) Polarized light in animal vision—polarization patterns in nature. Springer, HeidelbergCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kolb H, Jonas J (1987) The distinction by light and electron microscopy of two types of cone containing oil droplets in the retina of the turtle. Vis Res 27:1445–1458PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lawson PA, Secoy DM (1991) The use of solar cues as migratory orientation guides by the plains garter snake, Thamnophis radix. Can J Zool 69:2700–2702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lin S, Yemelyanov KM (2006) Separation and contrast enhancement of overlapping cast shadow components using polarization. Opt Express 14:7099–7107PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Loew ER, Govardovskii VI, Röhlich P, Szel A (1996) Microspectrophotometric and immunocytochemical identification of ultraviolet photoreceptors in geckos. Vis Neurosci 13:247–256PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lohmann KJ, Witherington BE, Lohmann CMF, Salmon M (1996) Orientation, navigation, and natal beach homing in sea turtles. In: Lutz PL, Musick JA (eds) The biology of sea turtles. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 107–136Google Scholar
  23. Mäthger LM, Lohmann KJ, Limpus CJ, Fritsches KA (2011) An unsuccessful attempt to elicit orientation responses to linearly polarized light in hatchling loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 366:757–762CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mathis A, Moore FR (1988) Geomagnetism and the homeward orientation of the box turtle, Terrapene carolina. Ethology 78:265–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mehrtens JM (1987) Living snakes of the world in color. Sterling, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Meyer-Rochow VB (1989) Behaviour of young tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) in total darkness. Tuatara 30:36–38Google Scholar
  27. Meyer-Rochow VB (2014) Polarization sensitivity in amphibians. In: Horváth G (ed) Polarized light and polarization vision in animal sciences. Springer Series in Vision Research (eds: S. Collin, J. Marshall). Springer, Heidelberg, Chapter 10Google Scholar
  28. Meyer-Rochow VB, The KL (1991) Visual predation by tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) on the beach beetle (Chaerodes trachyscelides) as a selective force in the production of distinct colour morphs. Tuatara 31:1–8Google Scholar
  29. Meyer-Rochow VB, Wohlfahrt S, Ahnelt PK (2005) Photoreceptor cell types in the retina of the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) have cone characteristics. Micron 36:423–428PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ohtsuka T (1985) Spectral sensitivities of seven morphological types of photoreceptors in the retina of the turtle, Geoclemys reevesii. J Comp Neurol 237:145–154PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ouboter PE, Nanhoe LM (1988) Habitat selection and migration of Caiman crocodiles in a swamp and swamp-forest habitat in northern Suriname. J Herpetol 22:283–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pough HF, Janis CM, Heiser JB (2002) Vertebrate life. Prentice Hall, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  33. Rodda GH (1984) The orientation and navigation of juvenile alligators: evidence of magnetic sensitivity. J Comp Physiol A 154:649–658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rodda GH (1985) Navigation in juvenile alligators. Z Tierpsychol 68:65–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Russell AP, Bauer AM, Johnson MK (2005) Migration in amphibians and reptiles. In: Bewa AMT (ed) Migration of organisms: climate, geography, ecology. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 151–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sabbah S, Lerner A, Erlick C, Shashar N (2005) Underwater polarization vision—a physical examination. Recent Res Dev Exp Theor Biol 1:123–176Google Scholar
  37. Sillman AJ, Ronan SJ, Loew ER (1991) Histology and microspectrophotometry of the photoreceptors of a crocodilian, Alligator mississippiensis. Proc R Soc Lond B 243:93–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sillman AJ, Govardovskii VI, Röhlich P, Southard JA, Loew ER (1997) The photoreceptors and visual pigments of the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis): a microspectrophotometric, scanning electron microscopic and immunocytochemical study. J Comp Physiol A 181:89–101PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sokol S, Muntz WRA (1966) The spectral sensitivity of the turtle Chrysemys picta picta. Vis Res 6:285–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Solessio E, Engbretson GA (1999) Electroretinogram of the parietal eye of lizards: photoreceptor, glial, and lens cell contributions. Vis Neurosci 16:895–907PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Southwood A, Avens L (2010) Physiological, behavioral, and ecological aspects of migration in reptiles. J Comp Physiol A 180:1–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tosini G, Avery RA (1996) Dermal photoreceptors regulate basking behavior in the lizard Podarcis muralis. Physiol Behav 59:195–198PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ung CY, Molteno AC (2004) An enigmatic eye: the histology of the tuatara pineal complex. Clin Exp Ophthalmol 32:614–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ventura DF, DeSouza JN, Devoe RD, Zana Y (1999) UV responses in the retina of the turtle. Vis Neurosci 16:191–204PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vercken E, Sinervo B, Clobert J (2008) Colour variation in female common lizards: why we should speak of morphs, a reply to Cote et al. J Evol Biol 21:1160–1164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Walls GL (1942) The vertebrate eye and its adaptive radiation. Crembrook, Bloomfield HillsCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wiltschko W, Wiltschko R (1995) Magnetic orientation in animals. Springer, HeidelbergCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yeomans RS (1995) Water-finding in adult turtles: random search or oriented behaviour. Anim Behav 49:977–987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zug JR, Vitt LJ, Caldwell JP (2001) Herpetology. Academic, San Diego, CAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OuluOuluFinland
  2. 2.Hachijojima Geothermal Energy MuseumTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations