Interspecific visual adaptations among wobbegong sharks (Orectolobidae)

Susan M. Theiss, Shaun P. Collin, Nathan S. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Several visual traits have previously been assessed in elasmobranchs; however, few studies have examined and compared multiple visual attributes within a particular genus. The primary advantage of studying closely related species is that any differences between them are more likely to reflect functional ecological adaptations rather than the effects of phylogenetic separation. In this study, the visual capabilities of 4 wobbegong shark species, which vary in life-history and/or habitat, were examined: the western wobbegong (Orectolobus hutchinsi), the spotted wobbegong (O. maculatus), the ornate wobbegong (O. ornatus) and the dwarf spotted wobbegong (O. parvimaculatus). The retinae of all 4 wobbegong species are duplex; rod and cone photoreceptors can be distinguished easily on the basis of morphology. Some variation in relative eye size exists, with O. parvimaculatus possessing the largest eyes. The topographic distribution of cells within the ganglion cell layer of O. hutchinsi reveals a weakly elongated central visual streak of increased cell density, mediating a higher spatial resolving power of 2.06 cycles deg-1 in the frontal visual field. Retinal topography of O. maculatus and O. parvimaculatus is similar, with both possessing a dorsal horizontal streak facilitating an increased spatial resolving power of 3.51 cycles deg -1 and 3.91 cycles deg-1, respectively, in the lower visual field. O. parvimaculatus also possesses an area of increased cell density in the naso-ventral region of the retina, mediating acute vision in the upper caudal region of the visual field. While all 4 species have visual systems optimised for increased visual sensitivity, O. maculatus and O. parvimaculatus appear to be particularly well suited to activity under low light conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-260
Number of pages13
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


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