The evolution of lenses


Correspondence: Michael F Land

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Structures which bend light and so form images are present in all the major phyla. Lenses with a graded refractive index, and hence reduced spherical aberration, evolved in the vertebrates, arthropods, annelid worms, and several times in the molluscs. Even cubozoan jellyfish have lens eyes. In some vertebrate eyes, multiple focal lengths allow some correction for chromatic aberration. In land vertebrates the cornea took over the main ray-bending task, leaving accommodation as the main function of the lens. The spiders are the only other group to make use of a single cornea as the optical system in their main eyes, and some of these – the salticids – have evolved a remarkable system based on image scanning. Similar scanning arrangements are found in some crustaceans, sea-snails and insect larvae.