Medical Articles

by William H. Bates, M. D. Д. Бейтс

Reprinted from Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, November, 1914, pp. 1170-1173.


By W. H. BATES, M.D.
(Photographs by Elwin R. Sanborn.)

THE Aquarium is one of the show places of New York. Here are gathered several thousand fishes so arranged that they can be readily inspected while swimming in the tajiks. The crowds of people that visit the place daily, testify to the fact that here is something worth seeing.

Some children were taken to the Aquarium and were asked to tell what they saw of the eyes of the fish. One boy eleven years old, said, "the pike has an eyeball shaped like an egg and their eyes seemed to be staring at you when you looked at them." "The muskallunge has eyes which go in and out; they are bright with a yellow ring around them." The rainbow trout appeared to him to have an eyeball shaped something like a square, the eyes of the yellow perch bulged at the top. He noted the turquoise blue of the eye of the red hind. Both he and his sister, aged seven, after two hours did not want to leave.

The eyes of the fish are in constant use except when they are asleep. They move up, down, to the right or left and rotate. In some fish these movements are quite marked. Fish have large eyes relatively to man. The width of the eyeball from side to side, is usually much greater than its depth. A fish ten inches long usually has eyeballs about one-half of an inch long, while a man seventy inches tall has spherical eyeballs about one inch long. One may say that the eye of a fish is one-twentieth of its length, while that of a man is occasionally only one-sixtieth or one seventieth of his height. However, the black grouper has very large eyes. In one specimen three feet long, the eyes were nearly two inches wide. A nurse shark of about the same length had eyes less than one-quarter of an inch wide. Eels four feet long had eyes as small as those of the shark.

My first impression of the fish seen in the tanks of the New York Aquarium was that their eyes seemed very open. Why? After investigation it was found that most of them had no eyelids. As their eyes need protection, was there anything else to save them from injury? Most fish have their eyes protected by a slimy material. The eyes of the red hind, yellow grunt and others have a transparent skin over the front part of their eyes, which is as thick as the skin of the fish or as the eyelids of some animals which live on the land. In the herring, this transparent skin covers only a part of the. eye. Exposure to the air was soon followed by a cloudiness of the transparent coat of the eye so that in a few minutes, or less, the ulterior of the eye could not be seen with an instrument called the opthalmoscope. The puffer, or swell fish, living in salt water, has eyelids which cover the eyeball when closed. The lower eyelid is much larger than the upper, being the reverse of the condition found in man, whose upper lid is larger than the lower.

Mr. L. L. Mowbray, of the Aquarium staff, suggested that the puffer needed eyelids for the protection of its eyes because of its habit of burrowing in the sand at the bottom of the water.


Enucleated eyeball held by forceps, The skin covering the front of the eyeball has not been removed.


Note the pear shaped pupil. The outer skin of the eyeball is pigmented above, transparent where it passes over the cornea and pupil and becomes opaque and less pigmented below.

The colored portion of the eye, the iris, is usually yellow in color. However, one found fish with the iris of different colors. In the center appears the black part called the pupil, usually round, as in man; but, fish were found whose pupils were pear-shaped, triangular, oval and pointed at each end. The size of the pupil does not appear to change very much on exposure to a bright light or as rapidly as does the pupil of most air-breathing animals. When the light comes from behind the observer, the interior of the eyes of the fish show beautiful colors; shades of red, yellow, blue and green. Many visitors at the Aquarium were entertained for a long time by the wonderful variety and kaleidoscopic changes of colors in the eyes of the fish. Dr. C. H. Townsend has published in one of the reports of the Zoological Society a valuable and interesting paper on the changes in the color of fish.

Have Fish Good Eyesight?

The men connected with the Aquarium have told me some interesting stories of their wonderful power of vision; and, one can believe that fish do see well when they avoid obstruction in their paths while darting rapidly through the water.

The object of the study of fishes' eyes was to find out the cause of near-sight and the need of glasses acquired by school children. The facts learned were of great practical value. One theory of the cause of myopia or near-sight was that muscle inside the eye, called the ciliary muscle, produced near sightedness. This theory was not the truth in the case of fish, because they have no ciliary muscle. Another theory was that the near use of the eyes caused myopia or near-sight. This theory did not apply to fish because myopia or near-sight was not found in fish like eels that habitually use their eye for near objects. Near-sight or myopia was produced in fish by the action of two muscles outside of the eyeball, called the superior and inferior oblique. They are so arranged about the eyeball that they form a nearly complete belt. When these muscles contract, the belt is tightened and consequently the eyeball is squeezed out of its normal shape, just as one would change the shape of a hollow rubber ball by squeezing it when held in the hand. The line or axis of vision becomes elongated. The elongated eyeball like the photographic camera with the bellows elongated is focussed for near objects.

With the aid of an instrument called the retinoscope, which reflects the beam of an electric light into the pupils of the eyes of the fish, it was determined positively that all the fish examined while they were swimming in the tanks, several hundred individuals of many species, were neither near-sighted nor did they have astigmatism. Their eyes were nearly normal and were usually focussed accurately to see distant objects. The eyes of decapitated or dead fish were normal, as were the eyes of fish that were asleep from the effects of ether. When examined out of the water or in the air, the eyes were the same as when the fish were immersed; but, in a short time, less than a minute, one could not see the interior of their eyes. Good photographs of the eyes could only be obtained while the fish were immersed. The fact that fish are not near-sighted should be emphasized because some writers have stated that fish have their eyes focussed for near objects most of the time. Fish, while able to see, or to focus their eyes correctly for distant objects, are also able to change their focus and see near objects. Some fish were observed with the aid of the retinoscope that had their eyes properly focussed on objects as close as four inches or even less.


A probe has been inserted between the outer skin of the eyeball and the globe. A part of the pupil can be seen.

Diagram—Red hind showing the transparent membrane covering the front of the eye with a probe beneath It. Note the pear shaped pupil.


The eyelids are closed by electrical stimulation.

How no Fishes Change the Focus of Their Eyes.

Fishes' eyes are adjusted to see near objects by the squeeze or contraction of the two oblique muscles on the outside of their eyeballs. The squeeze of the oblique muscles makes the eyeballs longer, the condition found in near-sight. To see distant objects accurately, these muscles relaxed, which permitted the eyes to resume their normal shape. The following experiment demonstrates that the accommodation or the near focus of fishes' eyes is produced by the action of the oblique muscles and not by the action of the ciliary or any other eye muscle:

1. In the beginning the eye of a normal fish was examined.

2. By means of electrical stimulation applied to the eyeball or its neighborhood, in most fish their focus was changed from distant to near objects.

3. One of the muscles of the eye called the superior oblique, was cut, which produced no change in the focus of the eye.

4. Electrical stimulation now did not produce any change in the focus. It did not accommodate.

5. The muscle which had been cut was now re-united with a thread, sewed together, without producing any change in the focus of the eyes of the fish.

6. Electrical stimulation now changed the focus from distant to near objects, as it did in the beginning.

It was interesting to observe that in those fish which did not have two oblique muscles, electrical stimulation failed to change the focus of their eyes from the distance to a near point. In one, the dog fish, with one oblique muscle, accommodation or near focus was not produced by electrical stimulation; but, after the place of the absent muscle was supplied by a thread of silk, then the focus of dog fish's eyes was changed to a near point when they were stimulated with electricity. After the oblique muscles were removed from the eye of a fish and when the eye had healed, some weeks later, near focus or accommodation could not be produced by electrical stimulation.

In another series of experiments, the lens of a fish's eye was removed. A pearl roach six inches long was examined. The eyes were not near-sighted. Electrical stimulation produced considerable change and the eyes were focussed for a near point. The lens of the eye was pushed to one side of the axis of vision, when the eye became very far-sighted. Electrical stimulation of the eye now produced marked accommodation. This experiment confirmed others that the lens was not necessary to change the focus from distant objects to those which were near. While I was otherwise engaged, Dr. C. Barnert performed the same experiment successfully on the eye of a carp. He pushed the lens to one side, applied the electric current, and produced near-sight or accommodation in a few minutes, all without assistance. Electrical stimulation produced as much accommodation after the removal of the lens as before. The fact that accommodation in the eyes of fish is not produced by the action of the lens inside of the eyes, but is accomplished by the two oblique muscles outside of the eyes, is one of great practical value. The investigations further showed that fish could be made nearsighted, far-sighted or astigmatic by various operations upon the oblique muscles.

Of what value was the study of fishes' eyes to people with poor sight wearing glasses? In brief, the cause of the need of glasses was learned and it suggested treatment successful in relieving near-sight, far-sight, astigmatism and presbyopia or old age sight without glasses.

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