Spectral tuning in the eyes of deep-sea lanternfishes (Myctophidae): a novel sexually dimorphic intra-ocular filter

Fanny De Busserolles, Nathan S. Hart, David M. Hunt, Wayne I. Davies, N. Justin Marshall, Michael W. Clarke, Dorothee Hahne, Shaun P. Collin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Deep-sea fishes possess several adaptations to facilitate vision where light detection is pushed to its limit. Lanternfishes (Myctophidae), one of the world's most abundant groups of mesopelagic fishes, possess a novel and unique visual specialisation, a sexually dimorphic photostable yellow pigmentation, constituting the first record of a visual sexual dimorphism in any non-primate vertebrate. The topographic distribution of the yellow pigmentation across the retina is species specific, varying in location, shape and size. Spectrophotometric analyses reveal that this new retinal specialisation differs between species in terms of composition and acts as a filter, absorbing maximally between 356 and 443 nm. Microspectrophotometry and molecular analyses indicate that the species containing this pigmentation also possess at least 2 spectrally distinct rod visual pigments as a result of a duplication of the Rh1 opsin gene. After modelling the effect of the yellow pigmentation on photoreceptor spectral sensitivity, we suggest that this unique specialisation acts as a filter to enhance contrast, thereby improving the detection of bioluminescent emissions and possibly fluorescence in the extreme environment of the deep sea. The fact that this yellow pigmentation is species specific, sexually dimorphic and isolated within specific parts of the retina indicates an evolutionary pressure to visualise prey/predators/mates in a particular part of each species' visual field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-93
Number of pages17
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Yellow pigment
  • Retinal filter
  • Spectral tuning
  • Myctophids
  • Opsins
  • Microspectrophotometry
  • Bioluminescence
  • Sexual dimorphism


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