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Multitasking in an eye: How the unusual organization of the principal larval eyes of Thermonectus marmoratus allows for far and near vision and might aid in depth perception
Annette Stowasser, Elke K. Buschbeck


Very few visual systems diverge fundamentally from the basic plans of well-studied animal eyes. However, investigating those that do can provide novel insights into visual system function. A particularly unusual system exists in the principal larval eyes of a visually guided aquatic predator, the Sunburst Diving Beetle, Thermonectus marmoratus (Coleoptera: Dystiscidae). These eyes are characterized by complex layered distal and proximal retinas. We previously reported that their principal eye E2 has a bifocal lens, and previous behavioral experiments suggested that these larvae have a unilateral range finding mechanism that may involve their bizarre eye organization. In our present study, we expanded our optical measurements and found that: 1) E1 also has a bifocal lens, 2) E1 is best suited for far vision while E2 is best suited for near vision and 3) throughout their typical hunting range, the positions of focused images shift across specific retinal layers. This anatomical and optical organization in principal could support unilateral range finding. Taken together, our findings outline an unusual visual mechanism that probably is essential for the extraordinary hunting ability of these larvae.