Visual pigments, oil droplets and cone photoreceptor distribution in the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Citations (Scopus)


Microspectrophotometric measurements of retinal photoreceptors from the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) revealed four classes of single cone, containing visual pigments with wavelengths of maximum absorbance (λ(max)) at 563, 504, 449 and close to 362 nm. The two longer-wave-sensitive single cones contained brightly coloured oil droplets which cut off light below 572 and 514 nm, respectively. The 449 nm λ(max) pigment was associated with a 'colourless' oil droplet with peak measured absorptance below 400 nm. The ultraviolet-sensitive visual pigment was paired with a transparent oil droplet which showed no significant absorption above 350 nm. A single class of double cone was identified, both members of which contained the longwave-sensitive (λ(max) 563 nm) visual pigment. The principal member of the double cone contained an oil droplet with a topographically variable cut-off wavelength below 471 nm; the oil droplet found in the accessory member was only measured in the ventral retina and displayed three distinct peaks of absorption at approximately 430, 450 and 480 nm. Rod photoreceptors had a λ(max) at 503 nm. A new polynomial for fitting visual pigment templates to ultraviolet-sensitive visual pigment data is given. Topographic density measurements of the different cone classes were made using Nitroblue-tetrazolium chloride to label selectively bleached photoreceptors. The two classes of shortwave-sensitive single cone were more abundant in the dorsal retina, and longwave-sensitive single cones were notably less abundant in the dorso-temporal region of the retina, which subserves binocular vision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1446
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Bird
  • Colour vision
  • Cone photoreceptors
  • European starling
  • Microspectrophotometry
  • MSP
  • Oil droplets
  • Sturnus vulgaris
  • Vision
  • Visual pigments


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