Selected ocular dimensions of three penguin species

Vision Res. 2022 Dec;201:108122. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2022.108122. Epub 2022 Sep 21.


Penguins (Spheniscidae) are a diverse clade of flightless, marine birds. Their eyes, likely a primary driver of behaviour, have been noted to have anatomic adaptations to their amphibious lifestyle. In particular, they have a relatively flat cornea, which would make the transition from a subaerial to a submarine environment require less accommodative effort. However, the ocular dimensions are not known for many penguin species, despite the diversity within the family, and their accommodative abilities have been the source of some dispute. In this study we undertook to establish the basic dimensions of the eye of the smallest, a mid-sized penguin and the second largest penguin. The power of the front surface of the cornea was inversely related to the size of both the eye and penguin, being 41.3 D in the little penguin (Eudyptula minor), a power greater than previously measured in any other penguin species, 26.3 D in the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and 19.1 D in the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus). All other dimensions increased or decreased in line with the size of the eye. All penguins were able to achieve emmetropia in air. The gentoo appeared to be emmetropic underwater. A finding of central corneal thickening in some penguins may be artefactual. Calculations using the ocular dimensions demonstrated that the mean retinal illumination of an extended source of light in the little penguin eye is less than that of its larger, deeper-diving relatives.

Keywords: Cornea; Eye; Gentoo; King penguin; Little penguin; Vision.

MeSH terms

  • Accommodation, Ocular
  • Animals
  • Cornea
  • Humans
  • Retina
  • Spheniscidae*