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Advanced optics in a jellyfish eye


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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Figure 1: The eyes of the box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora.
Figure 2: Optical properties of the lenses.
Figure 3: Modelling of receptive fields of individual photoreceptors in the retina of the upper and lower eyes.

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We thank E. J. Warrant and M. F. Land for comments on the manuscript, and Rita Wallén for technical assistance. This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council (to D.-E.N.), the National Science Foundation USA (to M.M.C.) and the Danish Research Council (to A.G.).

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Correspondence to Dan-E. Nilsson.

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Nilsson, DE., Gislén, L., Coates, M. et al. Advanced optics in a jellyfish eye. Nature 435, 201–205 (2005).

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