Crystalline pteridines in the stromal pigment cells of the iris of the great horned owl

Cell Tissue Res. 1981;217(2):387-95. doi: 10.1007/BF00233588.


The bright yellow color of the iris of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is due to unusual pigment cells in the iris stroma. These cells are spherical and contain numerous clear lipid droplets. Around the periphery of these cells are ovoid crystalline granules that are highly birefringent and vary in color from yellow to clear gray. Differential extraction of the lipid droplets and peripheral granules with lipid solvents and 2% KOH confirmed the localization of the yellow pigment in these granules. The color, solubility, fluorescence, chromatographic mobility and ultraviolet absorption of the extracted pigment suggest it is primarily xanthopterin. It is proposed that the peripheral granules are crystalline pterinosomes capable of reflecting light. Most of the cells contain yellow reflecting granules and can be considered reflecting xanthophores. Cells lying deeper in the stroma have colorless reflecting granules and can be considered pteridine containing leucophores.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Iris / cytology*
  • Iris / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Pigments, Biological / analysis*
  • Pteridines / analysis*


  • Pigments, Biological
  • Pteridines