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During their complex life history, anguilliform eels go through a major metamorphosis when developing from a fresh water yellow eel into a deep-sea silver eel. In addition to major changes in body morphology, the visual system also adapts from a fresh water teleost duplex retina with rods and cones, to a specialized deep-sea retina containing only rods. The history of the rods is well documented with an initial switch from a porphyropsin to a rhodopsin (P5232to P5011) and then a total change in gene expression with the down regulation of a “freshwater” opsin and its concomitant replacement by the expression of a typical “deep-sea” opsin (P5011to P4821). Yellow eels possess only two spectral classes of single cones, one sensitive in the green presumably expressing an RH2 opsin gene and the second sensitive in the blue expressing an SWS2 opsin gene. In immature glass eels, entering into rivers from the sea, the cones contain mixtures of rhodopsins and porphyropsins, whereas the fully freshwater yellow eels have cone pigments that are almost pure porphyropsins with peak sensitivities at about 540–545 nm and 435–440 nm, respectively. However, during the early stages of metamorphosis, the pigments switch to rhodopsins with the maximum sensitivity of the “green”-sensitive cone shifting to about 525 nm, somewhat paralleling, but preceding the change in rods. During metamorphosis, the cones are almost completely lost.

Original publication




Journal article


Visual Neuroscience


Cambridge University Press (CUP)

Publication Date





249 - 255