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Seeing after dark

Vision and visual processing in nocturnal animals
A large proportion of the world’s animal species are nocturnal. Our recent work on night-active bees, hawkmoths and dung beetles has shown that nocturnal animals have excellent vision. Many can see colour, negotiate dimly illuminated obstacles during flight and navigate using learned terrestrial landmarks, the dim pattern of polarised light formed around the moon or the pale stripe of the Milky Way.

Our current work focuses on how this impressive visual performance is achieved optically, in the designs of nocturnal eyes, and neurally, by the cellular circuits responsible for nocturnal visual processing. These studies are integrated with behavioural and theoretical assessments of visual performance. Some of the questions we are currently pursuing include:

  1. Do nocturnal photoreceptors have structural and physiological adaptations that allow them to function better in dim light? How do these adaptations affect the amount of information that nocturnal photoreceptors can code, and at what energetic cost?
  2. What is the neural basis of spatial summation in insects, and what are its benefits for vision in dim light?
  3. How well do nocturnal animals see colour at night, and what optical and physiological mechanisms are responsible?
  4. How well do nocturnal insects see optic flow information at night, and what neural processing strategies are employed to maximise the reliability of visual control of flight and landing?
  5. How well do nocturnal insects orient and migrate at night, and what sensory cues are used?
  6. What is the neural basis of compass orientation in nocturnal and diurnal insects?
  7. What are the functional roles and neural specialisations of the central complex that match them to the ecologies of insects?


Page Manager:
Compound eye in the dark


  • Prof. Marcus Byrne, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Prof. Barrie Frost, Queens University, Canada
  • Dr. Ken Green, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia
  • Prof. David O’Carroll, Lund University, Sweden
  • Dr. William Wcislo, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama
  • Prof. Matti Weckström, Uiversity of Oulu, Finland
  • Dr. Steve Wiederman, University of Adelaide, Australia