Motion and vision: why animals move their eyes

J Comp Physiol A. 1999 Oct;185(4):341-52. doi: 10.1007/s003590050393.


Nearly all animals with good vision have a repertoire of eye movements. The majority show a pattern of stable fixations with fast saccades that shift the direction of gaze. These movements may be made by the eyes themselves, or the head, or in some insects the whole body. The main reason for keeping gaze still during fixations is the need to avoid the blur that results from the long response time of the photoreceptors. Blur begins to degrade the image at a retinal velocity of about 1 receptor acceptance angle per response time. Some insects (e.g. hoverflies) stabilise their gaze much more rigidly than this rule implies, and it is suggested that the need to see the motion of small objects against a background imposes even more stringent conditions on image motion. A third reason for preventing rotational image motion is to prevent contamination of the translational flow-field, by which a moving animal can judge its heading and the distances of objects. Some animals do let their eyes rotate smoothly, and these include some heteropod molluscs, mantis shrimps and jumping spiders, all of which have narrow linear retinae which scan across the surroundings. Hymenopteran insects also rotate during orientation flights at speeds of 100-200 degrees s-1. This is just consistent with a blur-free image, as are the scanning speeds of the animals with linear retinae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hymenoptera / physiology
  • Motion Perception / physiology
  • Retina / physiology
  • Rotation
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*