Objectives The phenomenon of ‘eye-shine’ is seen in a variety of animal species, and is generally thought to be related to the presence of an intraocular reflecting structure, the tapetum lucidum. The tapetum lucidum is a biologic reflector system that is a common feature in the eyes of vertebrates. It normally functions to provide the light-sensitive retinal cells with a second opportunity for photon-photoreceptor stimulation, thereby enhancing visual sensitivity at low light levels. The tapetum lucidum is presented here according to a classification based on the location, as well as the composition, of this reflective layer. Finally, the physical and chemical properties, as well as the origins of the different tapeta lucida, are discussed and compared.
Methods The anatomic and biochemical aspects of the tapetum lucidum in various vertebrates are examined. Morphologic observations were made from paraffin and plastic embedded specimens. Specimens were treated with traditional stains and observed by light and transmission electron microscopy.
Results Some species (primates, squirrels, birds, red kangaroo and pig) do not have this structure and they usually are diurnal animals. In vertebrates, the tapetum lucidum exhibits diverse structure, organization and composition. Therefore, the retinal tapetum (teleosts, crocodilians, marsupials, fruit bat), the choroidal guanine tapetum (elasmobranchs), the choroidal tapetum cellulosum (carnivores, rodents, cetacea), and the choroidal tapetum fibrosum (cow, sheep, goat, horse) are described.
Conclusions The tapetum lucidum represents a remarkable example of neural cell and tissue specialization as an adaptation to a dim light environment and, despite these differences, all tapetal variants act to increase retinal sensitivity by reflecting light back through the photoreceptor layer. These variations regarding both its location and structure, as well as the choice of reflective material, may represent selective visual adaptations associated with their feeding behavior, in response to the use of specific wavelengths and amount of reflectance required.