Optic-nerve-transmitted eyeshine, a new type of light emission from fish eyes

Roland Fritsch, Jeremy F P Ullmann, Pierre Paul Bitton, Shaun P. Collin, Nico K. Michiels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Most animal eyes feature an opaque pigmented eyecup to assure that light can enter from one direction only. We challenge this dogma by describing a previously unknown form of eyeshine resulting from light that enters the eye through the top of the head and optic nerve, eventually emanating through the pupil as a narrow beam: the Optic-Nerve-Transmitted (ONT) eyeshine. We characterize ONT eyeshine in the triplefin blenny Tripterygion delaisi (Tripterygiidae) in comparison to three other teleost species, using behavioural and anatomical observations, spectrophotometry, histology, and magnetic resonance imaging. The study's aim is to identify the factors that determine ONT eyeshine occurrence and intensity, and whether these are specifically adapted for that purpose. Results: ONT eyeshine intensity benefits from locally reduced head pigmentation, a thin skull, the gap between eyes and forebrain, the potential light-guiding properties of the optic nerve, and, most importantly, a short distance between the head surface and the optic nerves. Conclusions: The generality of these factors and the lack of specifically adapted features implies that ONT eyeshine is widespread among small fish species. Nevertheless, its intensity varies considerably, depending on the specific combination and varying expression of common anatomical features. We discuss whether ONT eyeshine might affect visual performance, and speculate about possible functions such as predator detection, camouflage, and intraspecific communication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2017


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