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Curr Biol. 2011 Apr 26;21(8):665-70. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.033. Epub 2011 Apr 14.

A chiton uses aragonite lenses to form images.

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Biology Department, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Hundreds of ocelli are embedded in the dorsal shell plates of certain chitons. These ocelli each contain a pigment layer, retina, and lens, but it is unknown whether they provide chitons with spatial vision. It is also unclear whether chiton lenses are made from proteins, like nearly all biological lenses, or from some other material. Electron probe X-ray microanalysis and X-ray diffraction revealed that the chiton Acanthopleura granulata has the first aragonite lenses ever discovered. We found that these lenses allow A. granulata's ocelli to function as small camera eyes with an angular resolution of about 9°-12°. Animals responded to the sudden appearance of black, overhead circles with an angular size of 9°, but not to equivalent, uniform decreases in the downwelling irradiance. Our behavioral estimates of angular resolution were consistent with estimates derived from focal length and receptor spacing within the A. granulata eye. Behavioral trials further indicated that A. granulata's eyes provide the same angular resolution in both air and water. We propose that one of the two refractive indices of the birefringent chiton lens places a focused image on the retina in air, whereas the other does so in water.

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