Visual acuity of fly photoreceptors in natural conditions - dependence on UV sensitizing pigment and light-controlling pupil

DG Stavenga*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)
    255 Downloads (Pure)


    The effect of the UV-absorbing sensitizing pigment fly photoreceptors on absolute, spectral and angular sensitivity was investigated with a wave-optics model for the facet lens-rhabdomere system. When sky light was used as a UV-rich light source, one sensitizing pigment molecule per rhodopsin increased the photoreceptor absorption by 14-18% with respect to pure rhodopsin, whilst two sensitizing pigment molecules per rhodopsin increased the absorption by 20-27%. Upon light adaptation, when the pupil mechanism is activated, photoreceptor absorption decreases; in the housefly, Musca, by up to 6-fold. The fully light-adapted pupil diminishes the photoreceptor's acceptance angle by a factor of similar to0.6 due to selective absorption of higher order waveguide modes. Spatial acuity of dark-adapted photoreceptors is more or less constant throughout the visual wavelength range, including the UV, because the waveguide optics of the rhabdomere compromise acuity least at wavelengths most limited by diffraction of the facet lens. Diffraction is not the general limiting factor causative for UV sensitivity of insect eyes. Visual acuity is governed by diffraction only with a fully light-adapted pupil, which absorbs higher waveguide modes. Closure of the blue-absorbing pupil causes a UV-peaking spectral sensitivity of fly photoreceptors. The sensitizing pigment does not play an appreciable role in modifying spatial acuity, neither in the dark- nor the light-adapted state, due to the dominant contribution of green light in natural light sources.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1703-1713
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Apr-2004


    • rhabdomere
    • waveguide mode
    • acceptance angle
    • sky light
    • diffraction
    • light adaptation
    • R1-6
    • RETINA
    • EYES

    Cite this