The sensitivity to light is low in many neonatal mammals when compared with that in the adult. In human infants at one month of age, for example, the dark-adapted sensitivity for detection of large stimuli is 50 times lower than in the adult, and in rats the overall sensitivity of the neonatal retina is also low compared with the adult. This low sensitivity in the neonate has been attributed to a number of factors, but the possibility that the photoreceptors themselves might be an important limitation on the overall visual sensitivity has not so far been clearly established. Here we record the light response of single neonatal rat rods and find that the sensitivity is considerably lower than in the adult. The response to a single photoisomerization is normal in the neonate, and the sensitivity deficit can therefore be attributed to a low level of functional rhodopsin. Opsin, the protein component of rhodopsin, must be present in normal amounts, as the sensitivity can be restored to adult levels by treating the retina with 9-cis retinal, an active homologue of the native chromophore 11-cis retinal. The low sensitivity of photoreceptors in the neonate can therefore be attributed mainly to a low concentration of 11-cis retinal in the developing retina.