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SLU researcher finds a turtle eye muscle adapts to deal with obstructed vision
Date:9/19/2013

ST. LOUIS In a recent study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology, Saint Louis University professor of pharmacological and physiological science Michael Ariel, Ph.D., reported surprising findings about the eye movements of pond turtles who can retract their head deep into their shell. While researchers expected that the pond turtle's eyes would operate like other animals with eyes on the side of their heads, this particular species of turtle appears to have characteristics of both front and side-eyed animals, affecting a specific eye muscle's direction of pull and the turtle's eye position when its peripheral vision is blocked by its shell.

Humans, and many mammals like cats and monkeys, have their eyes viewing forward. In contrast, most lower vertebrates, including turtles, have eyes that are lateral -- on the side of their heads. Of the six muscles that move each eye, the muscles that move lateral eyes differ from the muscles of animals that move eyes viewing forward. In an earlier study, Ariel and his research team made an unexpected observation that a nerve that moves one of the pond turtle's eye muscles, the superior oblique muscle, was active when that turtle moved its head from side to side, much like that of animals whose eyes view forward.

In the current study, Ariel and the research team tested his theory that the pond turtle had characteristics of a front-eyed animal in three ways: physiologically, looking at the eye movement response to nerve stimulation; anatomically, examining how muscles were attached to the eyes and head; and behaviorally, examining eye positions.

And, indeed, the researchers found that a turtle pulls its eyes in different directions when its head is out of its shell compared to when its head is retracted deep within its shell. Because the pond turtle can pull its head entirely into its shell, resulting in an obstructed field of vision, it appears that this turtle has develop
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Contact: Carrie Bebermeyer
bebermcl@slu.edu
314-977-8015
Saint Louis University
Source:Eurekalert

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