Visual acuity and sensitivity increase allometrically with body size in butterflies

Arthropod Struct Dev. 2009 Mar;38(2):91-100. doi: 10.1016/j.asd.2008.08.003. Epub 2008 Oct 11.


In insects, the surface area of the compound eye increases with body size both within and between species with only a slight negative allometry. This increase in surface area permits changes in eye structure that affect the eye's acuity and sensitivity, two features of eye performance that cannot be simultaneously maximized. Hence, as eye size varies within a lineage, so will the compromises between features that maximize acuity and those that maximize sensitivity. We examined these compromises in four species of nymphalid butterflies that varied in body mass over almost two orders of magnitude. The largest of these species was crepuscular and so additionally may indicate the potential effect of life style on eye structure. Across these species, as body size increased, facet diameters increased while interommatidial angles decreased. Finally, the eye parameter was fairly constant across species except in the crepuscular species in which some notably large values were observed in the frontal visual field. Based on our measurements, large butterflies have more acute and more sensitive vision than smaller butterflies. However, full understanding of the behavioral implications of this relationship awaits information on the temporal resolution of their eyes because typical flight velocities also increase with body size.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Body Size
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology*
  • Butterflies / physiology
  • Compound Eye, Arthropod / anatomy & histology
  • Compound Eye, Arthropod / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Optical Phenomena
  • Sex Factors
  • Species Specificity
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*