The photoreceptors and visual pigments of the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis): A microspectrophotometric, scanning electron microscopic and immunocytochemical study

A. J. Sillman, V. I. Govardovskii, P. Röhlich, J. A. Southard, E. R. Loew

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Scanning electron microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and single cell microspectrophotometry were employed to characterize the photoreceptors and visual pigments in the retina of the garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. The photoreceptor population was found to be comprised entirely of cones, of which four distinct types were identified. About 45.5% of the photoreceptors are double cones consisting of a large principal member joined near the outer segment with a much smaller accessory member. About 40% of the photoreceptors are large single cones, and about 14.5% are small single cones forming two subtypes. The outer segments of the large single cones and both the principal and accessory members of the doubles contain the same visual pigment, one with peak absorbance near 554 nm. The small single cones contain either a visual pigment with peak absorbance near 482 nm or one with peak absorbance near 360 nm. Two classes of small single cones could be distinguished also by immunocytochemistry and scanning electron microscopy. The small single cones with the 360-nm pigment provide the garter snake with selective sensitivity to light in the near ultraviolet region of the spectrum. This ultraviolet sensitivity might be important in localization of pheromone trails.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-101
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology - A Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 1997



  • Immunolabelling
  • MSP
  • Photopigments
  • Reptile
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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