Retinal asymmetry in birds

N. S. Hart*, J. C. Partridge, I. C. Cuthill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Vertebrate sensory systems are generally based on bilaterally symmetrical sense organs. It is evident, nevertheless, that birds preferentially use either their left or right eye for viewing novel or familiar stimuli [1], and perform visual discrimination tasks under monocular viewing conditions better with one eye than with the other [2,3]. Because of the nearly complete contralateral decussation of the optic nerves in birds [4], it has been assumed that this division of labour is due solely to cerebral hemispheric specialisation, generated as a result of uneven photostimulation of the eyes of the developing embryo during the last three or four days before hatching [5,6]. Here, however, we present evidence that in the European starling, Sturnus vulgaris, even the retinae are morphologically asymmetrical in terms of photoreceptor distribution. This is the first evidence for such asymmetry in any bird and suggests that retinal photoreceptor composition should be assessed during studies involving the lateralisation of visually mediated behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-117
Number of pages3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes


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