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Crystals of Riboflavin making up the Tapetum Lucidum in the Eye of a Lemur


THE tapetum lucidum of the eye is a specialized layer lying behind, but adjacent to, the light-sensitive cells of the retina. It is specialized to form a reflecting surface so that any light not absorbed during its first passage through the light-sensitive cells is reflected back again and has a second opportunity to be absorbed. The tapetum is the basis of eye-shine in animals; it may be made up of crystals or of regularly arranged fibres1,2. Many fish, for example, have tapeta made of crystals of guanine, carnivores one of crystals of a complex of zinc-cysteine3, while herbivores such as the sheep and cow have fibrous tapeta. Man and the higher apes have no tapetum; but some lemurs have a well-developed one; the brilliant yellow tapetum of Galago monteiri is described by Johnson4, who says “… the background resembles burnished gold”. Rochon-Duvigneaud5 has found that both diurnal and nocturnal lemurs may have a tapetum. Kolmer6 agrees with this and notes that the tapetum of Lemur rufifrons, a diurnal lemur, is both crystalline and yellow. Luck7 has found that the eyes of Galago crassicaudatus agisymbanus, a nocturnal lemur, have a fluid vitreous body and a highly developed cellular tapetum which is brilliant gold in colour.

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PIRIE, A. Crystals of Riboflavin making up the Tapetum Lucidum in the Eye of a Lemur. Nature 183, 985–986 (1959).

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