Abstract

Some species of fish are able to discriminate, in addition to intensity and wavelength (color), the direction of polarization of visible light. Optical experiments on axially oriented retinal cones from trout and sunfish with use of two types of polarization microscope indicate anisotropic light transmission through paired cones. The measured linear birefringence of paired cone ellipsoids is consistent with the presence of membranous partitions. It is proposed that the partition between the two members of a paired cone, which often appears extensive and flat, functions as a dielectric mirror and that polarization-dependent reflection and refraction at this partition constitutes the underlying mechanism in the transduction of polarization into intensity variation at the photoreceptor’s outer segments. We support this hypothesis with linear birefringence and linear dichroism measurements, histological evidence, large-scale optical model measurements, and theoretical calculations based on Fresnel’s formulas.

© 1998 Optical Society of America

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