Compound eyes and retinal information processing in miniature dipteran species match their specific ecological demands

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91 Scopus citations


The compound eye of insects imposes a tradeoff between resolution and sensitivity, which should exacerbate with diminishing eye size. Tiny lenses are thought to deliver poor acuity because of diffraction; nevertheless, miniature insects have visual systems that allow a myriad of lifestyles. Here, we investigate whether size constraints result in an archetypal eye design shared between miniature dipterans by comparing the visual performance of the fruit fly Drosophila and the killer fly Coenosia. These closely related species have neural superposition eyes and similar body lengths (3 to 4 mm), but Coenosia is a diurnal aerial predator, whereas slow-flying Drosophila is most active at dawn and dusk. Using in vivo intracellular recordings and EM, we report unique adaptations in the form and function of their photoreceptors that are reflective of their distinct lifestyles. We find that although these species have similar lenses and optical properties, Coenosia photoreceptors have three- to fourfold higher spatial resolution and rate of information transfer than Drosophila. The higher performance in Coenosia mostly results from dramatically diminished light sensors, or rhabdomeres, which reduce pixel size and optical cross-talk between photoreceptors and incorporate accelerated phototransduction reactions. Furthermore, we identify local specializations in the Coenosia eye, consistent with an acute zone and its predatory lifestyle. These results demonstrate how the flexible architecture of miniature compound eyes can evolve to match information processing with ecological demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4224-4229
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 8 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolution
  • Invertebrate
  • Predatory behavior
  • Vision


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