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Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2009 Jun;292(6):798-812. doi: 10.1002/ar.20889.

The relationship between the lizard eye and associated bony features: a cautionary note for interpreting fossil activity patterns.

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Department of Physiology, Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, Arizona 85308, USA.


Activity pattern, the time of day when an animal is active, is associated with ecology. There are two major activity patterns: diurnal (awake during the day in a photopic environment) and nocturnal (awake at night in a scotopic environment). Lizards exhibit characteristic eye shapes associated with activity pattern, with scotopic-adapted lizard eyes optimized for visual sensitivity with large corneal diameters relative to their eye axial lengths, and photopic-adapted lizards optimized for visual acuity, with larger axial lengths of the eye relative to their corneal diameters. This study: (1) quantifies the relationship between the lizard eye and its associated bony anatomy (the orbit, sclerotic ring, and associated skull widths); (2) investigates how activity pattern is reflected in that bony anatomy; and (3) determines if it is possible to reliably interpret activity pattern for a lizard that does not have the soft tissue available for study, specifically, for a fossil. Knowledge of extinct lizards' activity patterns would be useful in making paleoecological interpretations. Here, 96 scotopic- and photopic-adapted lizard species are analyzed in a phylogenetic context. Although there is a close relationship between the lepidosaur eye and associated bony anatomy, based on these data activity pattern cannot be reliably interpreted for bony-only specimens, such as a fossil, possibly because of the limited ossification of the lepidosaur skull. Caution should be exercised when utilizing lizard bony anatomy to interpret light-level adaptation, either for a fossil lizard or as part of an extant phylogenetic bracket to interpret other extinct animals with sclerotic rings, such as dinosaurs.

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