Letters to Nature

Nature 435, 201-205 (12 May 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03484; Received 29 November 2004; Accepted 21 February 2005

Advanced optics in a jellyfish eye

Dan-E. Nilsson1, Lars Gislén2, Melissa M. Coates1, Charlotta Skogh1 & Anders Garm1

  1. Department of Cell and Organism Biology, Lund University, Zoology Building, Helgonavägen 3, 22362 Lund, Sweden
  2. Department of Theoretical Physics, Lund University, Sölvegatan 14A, SE - 223 62 Lund, Sweden

Correspondence to: Dan-E. Nilsson1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.-E.N. (Email: dan-e.nilsson@cob.lu.se).

Cubozoans, or box jellyfish, differ from all other cnidarians by an active fish-like behaviour and an elaborate sensory apparatus1, 2. Each of the four sides of the animal carries a conspicuous sensory club (the rhopalium), which has evolved into a bizarre cluster of different eyes3. Two of the eyes on each rhopalium have long been known to resemble eyes of higher animals, but the function and performance of these eyes have remained unknown4. Here we show that box-jellyfish lenses contain a finely tuned refractive index gradient producing nearly aberration-free imaging. This demonstrates that even simple animals have been able to evolve the sophisticated visual optics previously known only from a few advanced bilaterian phyla. However, the position of the retina does not coincide with the sharp image, leading to very wide and complex receptive fields in individual photoreceptors. We argue that this may be useful in eyes serving a single visual task. The findings indicate that tailoring of complex receptive fields might have been one of the original driving forces in the evolution of animal lenses.

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