The Ocular Morphology of the Southern Hemisphere Lamprey Geotria australis Gray, with Special Reference to Optical Specialisations and the Characterisation and Phylogeny of Photoreceptor Types Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper describes the ocular morphology of young adults of the southern hemisphere lamprey Geotria australis, the sole representative of the Geotriidae, and makes comparisons with those of holarctic lampreys (Petromyzontidae). As previously reported for the holarctic lamprey Ichthyomyzon unicuspis [Collin and Fritzsch, 1993], the lens of G. australis is non-spherical and possesses a cone-shaped posterior that may be capable of mediating variable focus. The avascular retina of G. australis is well differentiated, containing three retinal ganglion cell populations, three layers of horizontal cells and three photoreceptor types. In contrast to petromyzontids that contain only two photoreceptor types (short and long), G. australis possesses one rod-like (R1) and two cone-like (C1 and C2) photoreceptors. Although the rod-like receptor in G. australis may be homologous with the short receptors of holarctic lampreys, the two cone-like receptors have morphological characteristics that differ markedly from those of the long receptors of their holarctic counterparts. The features which distinguish the two cone-like receptors from those of the long receptor type in holarctic lampreys are the characteristics of the mitochondria and the presence of large amounts of two different types of stored secretory material in the endoplasmic reticulum of the myoid (refractile bodies). The endoplasmic reticulum of each receptor type has a different shape and staining profile and is polymorphic, each showing a continuum of distension. It is proposed that the presence of two cone-like photoreceptors with different characteristics would increase the spectral range of G. australis and thus be of value during the parasitic phase, when this lamprey lives in the surface marine waters. The irideal flap, present in G. australis but not petromyzontids, would assist in reducing intraocular flare during life in surface waters. The results of this study, which are discussed in the context of the proposed evolution of lampreys, emphasise that it is important to take into account the characteristics of the eyes of southern hemisphere lampreys when making generalizations about the eyes of lampreys as a whole.

publication date

  • 1999