Warm eyes provide superior vision in swordfishes

Curr Biol. 2005 Jan 11;15(1):55-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.12.064.


Large and powerful ocean predators such as swordfishes, some tunas, and several shark species are unique among fishes in that they are capable of maintaining elevated body temperatures (endothermy) when hunting for prey in deep and cold water . In these animals, warming the central nervous system and the eyes is the one common feature of this energetically costly adaptation . In the swordfish (Xiphias gladius), a highly specialized heating system located in an extraocular muscle specifically warms the eyes and brain up to 10 degrees C-15 degrees C above ambient water temperatures . Although the function of neural warming in fishes has been the subject of considerable speculation , the biological significance of this unusual ability has until now remained unknown. We show here that warming the retina significantly improves temporal resolution, and hence the detection of rapid motion, in fast-swimming predatory fishes such as the swordfish. Depending on diving depth, temporal resolution can be more than ten times greater in these fishes than in fishes with eyes at the same temperature as the surrounding water. The enhanced temporal resolution allowed by heated eyes provides warm-blooded and highly visual oceanic predators, such as swordfishes, tunas, and sharks, with a crucial advantage over their agile, cold-blooded prey.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Diving / physiology
  • Flicker Fusion / physiology*
  • Light*
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retina / physiology