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Spectral sensitivities of the seahorses Hippocampus subelongatus and Hippocampus barbouri and the pipefish Stigmatopora argus



The Syngnathidae are specialized diurnal feeders that are known to possess a retinal fovea and use independent eye movements to locate, track, and strike individual planktonic prey items. In this study, we have investigated the spectral sensitivities of three syngnathid species: a pipefish and two seahorses. We used spectrophotometry to measure the spectral transmission properties of ocular lenses and microspectrophotometry to measure the spectral absorption characteristics of visual pigments in the retinal photoreceptors. The pipefish, Stigmatopora argus, together with the seahorse Hippocampus subelongatus, is found in “green-water” temperate coastal seagrass habitats, whereas the second seahorse, H. barbouri, originates from a “blue-water” tropical coral reef habitat. All species were found to possess short wavelength absorbing pigment(s) in their lenses, with the 50% cut-off point of S. argus and H. subelongatus at 429 and 425 nm respectively, whereas that of H. barbouri was located at 409 nm. Microspectrophotometry of the photoreceptors revealed that the rods of all three species contained visual pigment with the wavelength of maximum absorption (λmax) at approximately 500 nm. The visual pigment complement of the cones varied between the species: all possessed single cones with a λmax close to 460 nm but H. barbouri also possessed an additional class of single cone with λmax at 430 nm. Three classes of visual pigment were found in the double cones, the λmax being approximately 520, 537, and 560 nm in the two seahorses and 520, 537, and 580 nm in the pipefish. The spectral sensitivities of the syngnathids investigated here do not appear to conform to generally accepted trends for fishes inhabiting different spectral environments. The influence of the specialized feeding regime of the syngnathids is discussed in relation to our findings that ultra-violet sensitivity is apparently not necessary for zooplanktivory in certain habitats.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Julia Shand, School of Animal Biology, M317, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia. E-mail:


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Spectral sensitivities of the seahorses Hippocampus subelongatus and Hippocampus barbouri and the pipefish Stigmatopora argus



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