Quantitative analysis of the retinal ganglion cell layer and optic nerve of the barn owl Tyto alba

Brain Behav Evol. 1989;33(5):279-92. doi: 10.1159/000115936.


The visual capacity of the common barn owl (Tyto alba) was studied by quantitative analysis of the retina and optic nerve. Cell counts in the ganglion cell layer of the whole-mounted retina revealed a temporal area centralis with peak cell density of 12,500 cells/mm2 and a horizontal streak of high cell density extending from the area centralis into the nasal retina. Integration of the ganglion cell density map gave an estimated total of 1.4 million cells for the ganglion cell layer. Electron microscopy of a single, complete section of the optic nerve revealed a bimodal fiber diameter spectrum (modes at 0.3 and 0.9 microns; bin width = 0.2 microns), with diameters ranging from 0.15 microns (unmyelinated) to 6.05 microns (myelinated, sheath included). The total axon count for the optic nerve was estimated from sample counts to be about 680,000 axons (25% unmyelinated). Therefore, roughly half of the cells in the retinal ganglion cell layer do not send axons into the optic nerve. With certain assumptions, the data predict a visual spatial acuity for barn owls on the order of 8 cycles/degree, a value similar to the known behaviorally measured acuities of masked owls (10 cycles/degree) and domestic cats (6 cycles/degree).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Cell Count
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Myelin Sheath / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Optic Nerve / ultrastructure*
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*