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Cell Tissue Res. 1992 Jun;268(3):419-29.

Specialized ommatidia for polarization vision in the compound eye of cockchafers, Melolontha melolontha (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae).

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Zoologisches Institut, Universit├Ąt, Z├╝rich, Switzerland.


The superposition eye of the cockchafer, Melolontha melolontha, exhibits the typical features of many nocturnal and crepuscular scarabaeid beetles: the dioptric apparatus of each ommatidium consists of a thick corneal lens with a strong inner convexity attached to a crystalline cone, that is surrounded by two primary and 9-11 secondary pigment cells. The clear zone contains the unpigmented extensions of the secondary pigment cells, which surround the cell bodies of seven retinula (receptor) cells per ommatidium and a retinular tract formed by them. The seven-lobed fused rhabdoms are composed by the rhabdomeres of the receptor cells 1-7. The rhabdoms are optically separated from each other by a tracheal sheath around the retinulae. The orientation of the microvilli diverges in a fan-like fashion within each rhabdomere. The proximally situated retinula cell 8 does not form a rhabdomere. This standard form of ommatidium stands in contrast to another type of ommatidium found in the dorsal rim area of the eye. The dorsal rim ommatidia are characterized by the following anatomical specializations: (1) The corneal lenses are not clear but contain light-scattering, bubble-like inclusions. (2) The rhabdom length is increased approximately by a factor of two. (3) The rhabdoms have unlobed shapes. (4) Within each rhabdomere the microvilli are parallel to each other. The microvilli of receptor 1 are oriented 90 degrees to those of receptors 2-7. (5) The tracheal sheaths around the retinulae are missing. These findings indicate that the photoreceptors of the dorsal rim area are strongly polarization sensitive and have large visual fields. In the dorsal rim ommatidia of other insects, functionally similar anatomical specializations have been found. In these species, the dorsal rim area of the eye was demonstrated to be the eye region that is responsible for the detection of polarized light. We suggest that the dorsal rim area of the cockchafer eye subserves the same function and that the beetles use the polarization pattern of the sky for orientation during their migrations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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