Double-duty deep-sea fish eye has one mirrored and one refractive lens system

Researchers at the University of Tübingen’s Institute of Anatomy (Tübingen, Germany) has discovered a fish with a previously unknown type of eye that contains two optical systems: one catoptric (mirror-based) and one dioptric (refractive).

Mar 20th, 2014
Double-duty deep-sea fish eye has one mirrored and one refractive lens system
Double-duty deep-sea fish eye has one mirrored and one refractive lens system
The eye of a glasshead barreleye fish is cylindrical with a conventional refractive lens on top; light from above hits the main retina (green). Bioluminescence from deep-sea prey enters through a cornea on the left and hits a separate silvery surface, to be focused on the second retina (yellow-green). The fish can therefore see objects above it with its conventional cylindrical eye, and detect other deep-sea creatures to the side and below via the reflector eye looking sideways. (Diagram: H.-J. Wagner; ray trace added in red by John Wallace using Microsoft Paint)

Researchers at the University of Tübingen’s Institute of Anatomy (Tübingen, Germany) have discovered a fish with a previously unknown type of eye that contains two optical systems: one catoptric (mirror-based) and one dioptric (refractive).1

The aptly-named glasshead barreleye lives at depths of 800 to 1000 m. It has a cylindrical eye pointing upwards to see prey, predators or potential mates silhouetted against the gloomy light above. But the eye also has a mirror-like second lens and retina that can detect bioluminescent flashes created by deep-sea denizens to the sides and below, says researcher Hans-Joachim Wagner.

Wagner examined an 18-cm-long glasshead barreleye (rhynchohyalus natalensis) caught in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, as part of an international research project. The results were unexpected -- reflector-based eyes are usually only found in invertebrates, such as mollusks and crustaceans, although one other vertebrate, the deep-sea brownsnout spookfish (dolichopteryx longipes) also uses a combination of reflective and refractive lenses in its eyes. The light coming from below is focused onto a second retina by a curved mirror composed of many layers of small reflective plates made of guanine crystals, giving the fish a much bigger field of vision.

Smooth mirror vs. reflective Fresnel lens
The glasshead barreleye is therefore one of only two vertebrates known to have reflector eyes; but significantly, although rhynchohyalus natalensis and dolichopteryx longipes belong to the same family, their reflective lenses have a different structure and appear to have developed from different kinds of tissue.

The glasshead barreleye has a smooth mirrored optical surface, while the brownsnout spookfish has a reflective Fresnel lens.

REFERENCE:

1. J. C. Partridge et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society B, published 19 March 2014; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3223

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