This investigation was stimulated by the historical confusion concerning the identity of certain pretectal nuclei and by large differences reported between species with respect to which nuclei receive retinal innervation. Subcortical visual nuclei were studied using immunohistochemistry to identify retinal projections labeled following intraocular injection of cholera toxin, b fragment. In addition, neuropeptide Y (NPY) or enkephalin (ENK) immunoreactive cells and fibers were also evaluated in the retinorecipient pretectal and thalamic areas. The results confirm the established view that the retina directly innervates the nucleus of the optic tract (NOT), posterior (PPT) and olivary pretectal (OPT) nuclei. However, the retina also innervates the hamster medial (MPT) and anterior (APT; dorsal division) pretectal nuclei, results not previously reported in rodents. A commissural pretectal area (CPT) sparsely innervated by retina is also described. The data show for the first time that the posterior limitans nucleus (PLi) receives a moderately dense, direct retinal input. The PLi does not project to the cortex and appears to be a pretectal, rather than thalamic, nucleus. All retinal projections are bilateral, although predominantly contralateral The PLi contains a moderately dense plexus of NPY- and ENK-IR fibers and terminals. However, peptidergic fibes also traverse the APT and connect with the dorsomedial pretectum. The OPT contains ENK- and NPY-IR neurons and fibers, but is specifically identifiable by a moderately dense plexus of ENK-IR terminals. Numerous ENK-IR neurons are found in the NOT and PPT. The latter also has moderate numbers of ENK-IR fibers and terminals b few NPY-IR neurons or fibers. The MPT contains modest numbers of ENK-IR fibers. The APT has no NPY-IR neurons or terminals, but an occasional ENK-IR neuron is seen and there is sparse ENK-IR innervation Peptidergic innervation of the visual nuclei does not appear to be derived from the retina. The results show a set of retinally innervated, contiguous nuclei extending from the thalamic ventrolateral geniculate nucleus dorsomedially to the midbrain CPT. These nuclei plus the superior colliculus comprise a dorsal “visual shell” embracing a central core of caudal thalamus and rostral midbrain.