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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003 May;44(5):2290-6.

Retinal spectral sensitivity, fur coloration, and urine reflectance in the genus octodon (rodentia): implications for visual ecology.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Faculty of Science and Center of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience of Valparaíso, University of Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile.



To determine the eye's spectral sensitivity in three species of the genus Octodon (order Rodentia; infraorder Caviomorpha), O. degus, O. bridgesi, and O. lunatus, as well as the spectral properties of the animals' fur and urine and of objects in their habitat. The genus is endemic in Chile and contains species with different habitats and circadian patterns (diurnal versus nocturnal).


The electroretinogram (ERG) was used to record scotopic and photopic spectral sensitivity. The reflectance of ventral and dorsal body parts, urine, and other objects from the natural microhabitat were measured with a fiber-optic spectrometer.


In scotopic conditions, the maxima of sensitivity (lambda(max)) were at 505.7 +/- 7.7 nm in O. degus, 501 +/- 7.4 nm in O. bridgesi, and 510.1 +/- 7.4 nm in O. lunatus, representing the rod mechanism. In photopic conditions, only the diurnal species O. degus (common degu) was studied. The degu's photopic sensitivity had a lambda(max) at 500.6 +/- 1.2 nm and contained two cone mechanisms with lambda(max) at 500 nm (green, medium-wavelength-sensitive [M] cones) and approximately 360 nm (ultraviolet, short-wavelength-sensitive [S] cones). In all three Octodon species, dorsal body parts were more cryptically colored than ventral ones, and ventral body parts had a significant UV reflectance. The fresh urine of O. degus, used for scent marking in various behavioral patterns, was also high in UV reflectance.


It is suggested that territorial urine marks are visual as well as pheromone cues for UV-sensitive species and hence may have favored the evolution of UV-cones in rodents.

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