Exploring the visual world of fossilized and modern fungus gnat eyes (Diptera: Keroplatidae) with X-ray microtomography

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Animal eyes typically possess specialized regions for guiding different behavioural tasks within their specific visual habitat. These specializations, and evolutionary changes to them, can be crucial for understanding an animal's ecology. Here, we explore how the visual systems of some of the smallest flying insects, fungus gnats, have adapted to different types of forest habitat over time (approx. 30 Myr to today). Unravelling how behavioural, environmental and phylogenetic factors influence the evolution of visual specializations is difficult, however, because standard quantitative techniques often require fresh tissue and/or provide data in eye-centric coordinates that prevent reliable comparisons between species with different eye morphologies. Here, we quantify the visual world of three gnats from different time periods and habitats using X-ray microtomography to create high-resolution three-dimensional models of the compound eyes of specimens in different preservation states-fossilized in amber, dried or stored in ethanol. We present a method for analysing the geometric details of individual corneal facets and for estimating and comparing the sensitivity, spatial resolution and field of view of species across geographical space and evolutionary time. Our results indicate that, despite their miniature size, fungus gnats do have variations in visual properties across their eyes. We also find some indication that these visual specializations vary across species and may represent adaptations to their different forest habitats. Overall, the findings demonstrate how such investigations can be used to study the evolution of visual specializations-and sensory ecology in general-across a range of insect taxa from different geographical locations and across time.


External organisations
  • Stockholm University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • eye evolution, fossil, insect, optical analysis, visual specialization, X-ray microtomography
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Royal Society, Interface
Issue number163
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch