Get access

Eye shape and activity pattern in birds


Margaret I. Hall, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, 85308, USA. Tel: (623) 572 3637; Fax: (623) 572 3449


Many aspects of an animal's ecology are associated with activity pattern, the time of day when that animal is awake and active. There are two major activity patterns: diurnal, active during the day in a light-rich, or photopic, environment, and nocturnal, active after sunset in a light-limited, or scotopic, environment. Birds are also cathemeral, or equally likely to be awake at any time of day, or crepuscular, awake and active at dawn and dusk. Each of these activity patterns is associated with different levels of ambient light. This study examines how the morphology (size and shape) of the eye varies according to these different light environments for birds in a phylogenetic context. Activity pattern has a significant influence on eye shape and size in birds. Birds that are adapted for scotopic vision have eye shapes that are optimized for visual sensitivity, with larger corneal diameters relative to axial lengths. Birds that are adapted for photopic vision have eye shapes that are optimized for visual acuity, with larger axial lengths relative to corneal diameters. Birds adapted for scotopic vision also exhibit absolutely larger corneal diameters and axial lengths than do photopic birds. The results indicate that the light level under which the bird functions has a more significant influence on eye shape than phylogeny.

Get access to the full text of this article