Insect photoreceptor adaptations to night vision

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Night vision is ultimately about extracting information from a noisy visual input. Several species of nocturnal insects exhibit complex visually guided behaviour in conditions where most animals are practically blind. The compound eyes of nocturnal insects produce strong responses to single photons and process them into meaningful neural signals, which are amplified by specialized neuroanatomical structures. While a lot is known about the light responses and the anatomical structures that promote pooling of responses to increase sensitivity, there is still a dearth of knowledge on the physiology of night vision. Retinal photoreceptors form the first bottleneck for the transfer of visual information. In this review, we cover the basics of what is known about physiological adaptations of insect photoreceptors for low-light vision. We will also discuss major enigmas of some of the functional properties of nocturnal photoreceptors, and describe recent advances in methodologies that may help to solve them and broaden the field of insect vision research to new model animals.


  • Anna Honkanen
  • Esa Ville Immonen
  • Iikka Salmela
  • Kyösti Heimonen
  • Matti Weckström
External organisations
  • University of Oulu
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • Compound eye, Night vision, Photoreceptor, Phototransduction, Quantum bump
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160077
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1717
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 5
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes