Interspecific variation of photoreceptors in four co-existing haplochromine cichlid fishes

Brain Behav Evol. 1995;45(4):232-40. doi: 10.1159/000113552.


The photoreceptors of four co-existing haplochromine cichlids have been studied morphometrically and microspectrophotometrically, and the results were interpreted in terms of resolution and sensitivity. Among the three species, Haplochromis argens, H. piceatus and H. ishmaeli, the cone dimensions and the visual pigments differed only slightly, in spite of differences in vertical distribution and feeding behaviour between these species. The fourth species H. pyrrhocephalus showed distinctly different visual properties, with very large double cones at low densities, and its spectral sensitivity shifted to significantly longer wavelengths. To some degree, the photoreceptor morphometrics and visual pigments appeared to be attuned to the photic conditions of the specific habitats. The two species H. piceatus and H. pyrrhocephalus, occupying a dimmer habitat with less penetrating blue light, had reduced blue sensitive single cones, whereas the surface dwelling species H. argens had relatively small red/green sensitive double cones. Also an attempt has been made to relate the visual capacity of the cichlids to their behavioural patterns, focussing on prey detection. The greatest visual differences were observed in the two species H. argens and H. pyrrhocephalus, with resources coincidence and with the highest encounter frequency, which may indicate that visual segregation contributes towards reducing interference competition among co-existing species with a similar diet.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Size
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Perches / anatomy & histology*
  • Perches / physiology
  • Photoreceptor Cells / anatomy & histology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Visual Perception / physiology*