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Single and multiple visual systems in arthropods.

  • Wald, G
Published Article
The Journal of general physiology
Publication Date
Feb 01, 1968
PMID: 5641632


Extraction of two visual pigments from crayfish eyes prompted an electrophysiological examination of the role of visual pigments in the compound eyes of six arthropods. The intact animals were used; in crayfishes isolated eyestalks also. Thresholds were measured in terms of the absolute or relative numbers of photons per flash at various wavelengths needed to evoke a constant amplitude of electroretinogram, usually 50 microv. Two species of crayfish, as well as the green crab, possess blue- and red-sensitive receptors apparently arranged for color discrimination. In the northern crayfish, Orconectes virilis, the spectral sensitivity of the dark-adapted eye is maximal at about 550 mmicro, and on adaptation to bright red or blue lights breaks into two functions with lambda(max) respectively at about 435 and 565 mmicro, apparently emanating from different receptors. The swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, displays a maximum sensitivity when dark-adapted at about 570 mmicro, that breaks on color adaptation into blue- and red-sensitive functions with lambda(max) about 450 and 575 mmicro, again involving different receptors. Similarly the green crab, Carcinides maenas, presents a dark-adapted sensitivity maximal at about 510 mmicro that divides on color adaptation into sensitivity curves maximal near 425 and 565 mmicro. Each of these organisms thus possesses an apparatus adequate for at least two-color vision, resembling that of human green-blinds (deuteranopes). The visual pigments of the red-sensitive systems have been extracted from the crayfish eyes. The horse-shoe crab, Limulus, and the lobster each possesses a single visual system, with lambda(max) respectively at 520 and 525 mmicro. Each of these is invariant with color adaptation. In each case the visual pigment had already been identified in extracts. The spider crab, Libinia emarginata, presents another variation. It possesses two visual systems apparently differentiated, not for color discrimination but for use in dim and bright light, like vertebrate rods and cones. The spectral sensitivity of the dark-adapted eye is maximal at about 490 mmicro and on light adaptation, whether to blue, red, or white light, is displaced toward shorter wavelengths in what is essentially a reverse Purkinje shift. In all these animals dark adaptation appears to involve two phases: a rapid, hyperbolic fall of log threshold associated probably with visual pigment regeneration, followed by a slow, almost linear fall of log threshold that may be associated with pigment migration.


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