Scallop eyes are like an advanced telescope

  • Scallop eyes, as it turns out, look like a series of tiled mirrors that construct a surprisingly complex image. Image credit: Matthew Krummins via Wikimedia Commons
  • A broader view of the multi-eyed scallop. Image credit: Ceri Jones, Haven Diving Services
Date:1 December 2017 Tags:, , , , ,

The strange mollusks of the deep see through dozens of tiny mirrors. Scallop eyes could inspire the telescopes of the future.

By John Wenz

Scallops are strange. These little mollusk looks like a horror movie clams, with a row of tendrils and eyes inside its mouth. And then there are those eyes. According to research published today in Science, those eyes – which bear a slight resemblance to a berry – look an awful lot like an advanced telescope. Just maybe, they could teach us a thing or two about the science of vision.

Most newer observatory telescopes rely on an array of multiple tiled mirrors to build a complex picture of the heavens. Scallop eyes, as it turns out, look like a series of tiled mirrors that construct a surprisingly complex image. And all this for a filter feeder without a brain.

Researching scallop vision

scallop has eyes like a future telescope

A broader view of the multi-eyed scallop.

“From our ray tracing reconstructions, we estimate that they can form a blurry image of the shapes of objects,” Stephen Weiner of the Weizman Institute of Science and a co-author on the study says.

This places them closer to giant clams – which have hundreds of eyes – than smaller mollusks and mussels. See, the latter have none or only rudimentary light sensors to detect predators. (More advanced mollusks like octopuses have oddly human-like eyes.) But the structure of the eye of the scallop is seemingly entirely unique.

“Very few other mollusks have eyes and these resemble those in insects,” Weiner says. “So besides these unique eyes, the scallops are among the few, if not the only group of bivalves that can swim. Maybe there is a connection.” (Scallops swim by ejecting a stream of water and then flapping along in an irregular pattern. It’s as weird as it sounds.)

Watch how they swim:

Those strange eyes—which can number up to 200 on an individual scallop—may help it build a three-dimensional view of its environment. In addition not all the eyes are created equally, thus some have better vision than others.

The eyes of the scallop could end up influencing telescope design. The authors say in the paper that their resemblance to a segmented reflecting telescope “provides inspiration for the development of compact, wide-field imaging devices derived from this unusual form of biological optics”. In other words, scallop eyes might help us build a better telescope that does more with less space.

The next time you dine on a scallop, just remember: it’s one of the few shelled mollusks that could be looking back at you with up to 200 tiny, low power telescopes.

From: PM USA