Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Eye Size Determined by Maximum Running Speed in Mammals

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Eye Size Determined by Maximum Running Speed in Mammals

Article excerpt

Maximum running speed is the most important variable influencing mammalian eye size other than body size, according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin. "Species with larger eyes usually have higher visual acuity," said Chris Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. But what are the ecological factors that cause some mammals to develop larger eyes than others?

"If you can think of mammals that are fast like a cheetah or horse, you can almost guarantee they've got really big eyes," said Kirk. "This gives them better vision to avoid colliding with obstacles in their environment when they're moving very quickly."

Kirk and physical anthropology doctoral student Amber Heard-Booth are the first to apply Leuckart's Law--a hypothesis that was developed specifically for birds and speed of flight--to 50 species of mammals. The paper is forthcoming in the journal Anatomical Record.

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Previously it was thought that the time of day that an animal is active (nocturnal or diurnal) would be the main factor driving the evolution of mammalian eye size. However, comparative research on the anatomy of the eye has shown that although nocturnal and diurnal species differ in eye shape, they often have similar eye sizes. Although nocturnal species may appear to have bigger eyes because more of the cornea is exposed to let in more light, activity pattern only has a modest effect on eye size. …

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