Color, activity period, and eye structure in four lineages of ants: Pale, nocturnal species have evolved larger eyes and larger facets than their dark, diurnal congeners
Johnson, Robert; Rutowski, Ronald (2022), Color, activity period, and eye structure in four lineages of ants: Pale, nocturnal species have evolved larger eyes and larger facets than their dark, diurnal congeners, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.nzs7h44v8
The eyes of insects display an incredible diversity of adaptations to enhance vision across the gamut of light levels they experience. One commonly studied contrast is the difference in eye structure between nocturnal and diurnal species, with nocturnal species typically having features that enhance eye sensitivity such as larger eyes, larger eye facets, and larger ocelli. In this study, we compared eye structure between workers of closely related nocturnal and diurnal above-ground foraging ant species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in four genera (Myrmecocystus, Aphaenogaster, Temnothorax, Veromessor). In all four genera, nocturnal species tend to have little cuticular pigment (pale), while diurnal species are heavily pigmented (dark), hence we could use cuticle coloration as a surrogate for activity pattern. Across three genera (Myrmecocystus, Aphaenogaster, Temnothorax), pale species, as expected for nocturnally active animals, had larger eyes, larger facet diameters, and larger visual spans compared to their dark, more day-active congeners. This same pattern occurred for one pale species of Veromessor, but not the other. There were no consistent differences between nocturnal and diurnal species in interommatidial angles and eye parameters both within and among genera. Hence, the evolution of eye features that enhance sensitivity in low light levels do not appear to have consistent correlated effects on features related to visual acuity. A survey across several additional ant genera found numerous other pale species with enlarged eyes, suggesting these traits evolved multiple times within and across genera. We also compared the size of the anterior ocellus in workers of pale versus dark species of Myrmecocystus. In species with larger workers, the anterior ocellus was smaller in pale than in dark species, but this difference mostly disappeared for species with smaller workers. Presence of the anterior ocellus also was size-dependent in the two largest pale species.
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