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Retinal ganglion cell density of the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis): Calculating visual resolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2008

Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, Australia
School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Paul Manger, School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, 2193, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. E-mail:


A single right retina from a black rhinoceros was whole mounted, stained and analyzed to determine the visual resolution of the rhinoceros, an animal with reputedly poor eyesight. A range of small (15-μm diameter) to large (100-μm diameter) ganglion cell types was seen across the retina. We observed two regions of high density of retinal ganglion cells at either end of a long, but thin, horizontal streak. The temporal specialization, which receives light from the anterior visual field, exhibited a ganglion cell density of approximately 2000/mm2, while the nasal specialization exhibited a density of approximately 1500/mm2. The retina exhibited a ganglion cell density bias toward the upper half, especially so, the upper temporal quadrant, indicating that the rhinoceros would be processing visual information from the visual field below the anterior horizon for the most part. Our calculations indicate that the rhinoceros has a visual resolution of 6 cycles/degree. While this resolution is one-tenth that of humans (60 cycles/deg) and less than that of the domestic cat (9 cycles/deg), it is comparable to that of the rabbit (6 cycles/deg), and exceeds that seen in a variety of other mammals including seals, dolphins, microbats, and rats. Thus, the reputation of the rhinoceros as a myopic, weakly visual animal is not supported by our observations of the retina. We calculate that the black rhinoceros could readily distinguish a 30 cm wide human at a distance of around 200 m given the appropriate visual background.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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