Scallops See Their World Through 200 Eyes

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Scallops can have up to 200 eyes, although scientists still don't know exactly how they all work together to help the mollusks see. (ShaneKato / iStock)

What Scallops’ Many Eyes Can Teach Us About the Evolution of Vision

by Viviane Callier Smithsonian.com

The word “scallop” usually evokes a juicy, round adductor muscle—a seafood delicacy. So it isn’t widely known that scallops have up to 200 tiny eyes along the edge of the mantle lining their shells. The complexities of these mollusk eyes are still being unveiled. A new study published in Current Biology reveals that scallop eyes have pupils that dilate and contract in response to light, making them far more dynamic than previously believed.

“It’s just surprising how much we’re finding out about how complex and how functional these scallop eyes are,” says Todd Oakley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The optics of scallop eyes are set up very differently than our own ocular organs. As light enters into the scallop eye, it passes through the pupil, a lens, two retinas (distal and proximal), and then reaches a mirror made of crystals of guanine at the back of the eye. The curved mirror reflects the light onto the interior surface of the retinas, where neural signals are generated and sent to a small visceral ganglion, or a cluster of nerve cells, whose main job is to control the scallop’s gut and adductor muscle. The structure of a scallop’s eye is similar to the optics systems found in advanced telescopes.

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