The spectral transmission of ocular media suggests ultraviolet sensitivity is widespread among mammals

R. H. Douglas, G. Jeffery

Abstract

Although ultraviolet (UV) sensitivity is widespread among animals it is considered rare in mammals, being restricted to the few species that have a visual pigment maximally sensitive (λmax) below 400 nm. However, even animals without such a pigment will be UV-sensitive if they have ocular media that transmit these wavelengths, as all visual pigments absorb significant amounts of UV if the energy level is sufficient. Although it is known that lenses of diurnal sciurid rodents, tree shrews and primates prevent UV from reaching the retina, the degree of UV transmission by ocular media of most other mammals without a visual pigment with λmax in the UV is unknown. We examined lenses of 38 mammalian species from 25 families in nine orders and observed large diversity in the degree of short-wavelength transmission. All species whose lenses removed short wavelengths had retinae specialized for high spatial resolution and relatively high cone numbers, suggesting that UV removal is primarily linked to increased acuity. Other mammals, however, such as hedgehogs, dogs, cats, ferrets and okapis had lenses transmitting significant amounts of UVA (315–400 nm), suggesting that they will be UV-sensitive even without a specific UV visual pigment.

  • Received November 15, 2013.
  • Accepted January 21, 2014.
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© 2014 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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