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Brain Behav Evol. 2010;75(4):251-61. doi: 10.1159/000314898. Epub 2010 Jun 28.

Visual acuity and heterogeneities of retinal ganglion cell densities and the tapetum lucidum of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana).

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  • 1Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld., Australia.


The eyes of three adult male African elephants were examined, the retinas were whole-mounted, stained and analyzed to determine visual acuity. A range of small to large ganglion cell types were observed across the retinas. We observed three regions of high ganglion cell density, one in the upper temporal quadrant, a visual or horizontal streak and a smaller region at the nasal end of the horizontal streak. The peak density of ganglion cells observed was 5,280/mm(2), and our calculations indicate that the elephant has a maximal visual acuity of between 13.16 and 14.37 cycles/degree. We observed a heterogeneous structure of a tapetum lucidum, the cells of which were found to be most strongly aggregated behind the temporal and nasal densities of retinal ganglion cells. The strength of the tapetum lucidum was weaker posterior to the density of ganglion cells forming the horizontal streak. The morphology of the elephant eye appears to be such that it reflects: (1) the importance of trunk-eye co-ordination for feeding; (2) the importance of 24-hour vigilance for either predators or conspecifics, and (3) the arrhythmic nature of the daily activity of this animal, being useful both diurnally and nocturnally.

Copyright 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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