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Trilobite vision: A comparison of schizochroal and holochroal eyes with the compound eyes of modern arthropods



Trilobite vision: A comparison of schizochroal and holochroal eyes with the compound eyes of modern arthropods



Paleobiology 19(3): 288-303



The compound eyes of trilobites provide the best examples of fossilized sensory organs for which the function in life can be worked out today because the optical array of their corneal lenses preserves the geometry with which the eye originally sampled the visual world. An analysis of trilobite vision is strengthened by the use of new mathematical approaches to compound eye design. In particular, the product of the facet diameter (D) and the interommatidial angle (DELTA-vphi) gives the value of the eye parameter, D-DELTA-vphi, which is a reliable indicator of the photic conditions in which the eye was used. In modern arthropods, D-DELTA-vphi values range from 0.3 for animals active in bright sunlight to 20 or more for nocturnal or deep-sea animals. Two major types of compound eyes existed in trilobites: schizochroal and holochroal. In our previous work with schizochroal eyes in the phacopids Phacops rana crassituberculata and Phacops rana milleri, we found that eye parameter values ranged from 10 to gt 150. These values of the eye parameter are much greater than in any living arthropod, implying that modern compound eye theory does not apply to schizochroal eyes. We suggested that each ommatidium of the schizochroal eye served as a miniature lens eye. If so, phacopid vision must have been unique, with multiply overlapping visual fields. In the new work of this paper, we examined holochroal compound eyes in Asaphus cornutus, Isotelus gigas, and Homotelus sp. Holochroal eyes contain far more ommatidia than do schizochroal types, reducing both facet diameter (D) and interommatidial angle (DELTA-vphi). Thus, D-DELTA-vphi values in these species fall into the same range as in modern nocturnal compound eyes. This implies that function of the holochroal eye was similar to that of modern arthropods, and that they were used in moderate to dim intensities of light.

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Accession: 009676964

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DOI: 10.2307/2401191



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