Retinal and lenticular ultrastructure in the aestivating salamanderfish, Lepidogalaxias salamandroides (Galaxiidae, Teleostei) with special reference to a new type of photoreceptor mosaic

  • Shaun P. Collin
  • H. B. Collin
Keywords: fish, retina, vision, photoreceptors, mosaic, retinal pigment epithelium


The salamanderfish, Lepidogalaxias salamarzdroides (Galaxiidae, Teleostei) is endemic to southwestern Australia and inhabits shallow, freshwater pools which evaporate during the hot summer months. Burrowing into the substrate in response to falling water levels allows these fish to aestivate for extended periods of time while encapsulated in a mucous cocoon even when the pools contain no water. Only a few minutes after a major rainfall, these fish emerge into relatively clear water which subsequently becomes laden with tannin, turning the water black and reducing the pH to approximately 4.3. As part of a large study of the visual adaptations of this unique species, the retinal and lenticular morphology of the aestivating salamanderfish is examined at the level of the light and electron microscopes. The inner retina is highly vascularised by a complex system of vitreal blood vessels, while the outer retina receives a blood supply by diffusion from a choriocapillaris. This increased retinal blood supply may be an adaptation for reducing the oxygen tension during critical periods of aestivation. Large numbers of Miiller cells traverse the thickness of the retina from the inner to the outer limiting membranes. The ganglion cells are arranged in two ill-defined layers, separated from a thick inner nuclear layer containing two layers of horizontal cells by a soma-free inner plexiform layer. The photoreceptors can be divided into three types typical of many early actinopterygian representatives; equal double cones, small single cones and large rods (2:1:1). These photoreceptors are arranged into a unique regular square mosaic comprising a large rod bordered by four equal double cones with a small single cone located at the corner of each repeating unit. The double cones may optimise perception of mobile prey which it tracks by flexion of its head and "neck" and the large rods may increase sensitivity in the dark tannin-rich waters in which it lives. Each single cone also possesses a dense collection of polysomes and glycogen (a paraboloid) beneath its ellipsoid, the first such finding in teleosts. The retinal pigment epithelium possesses melanosomes, phagocytes and a large number of mitochondria. The anatomy of the retina and the photoreceptor mosaic is discussed in relation to the primitive phylogeny of this species and its unique life history.