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The parietal eye (very small grey oval between the regular eyes) of a juvenile bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
Adult Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) clearly showing the parietal eye (small grey/clear oval) at the top of its head.
Parietal eye of the Merrem's Madagascar swift (Oplurus cyclurus) is surrounded by a black-and-white spot on the skin, giving it the "three-eyed" appearance

A parietal eye, also known as a third eye or pineal eye, is a part of the epithalamus present in some animal species. The eye is photoreceptive and is associated with the pineal gland, regulating circadian rhythmicity and hormone production for thermoregulation.[1]

Presence in various animalsEdit

The parietal eye is found in the tuatara, most lizards, frogs, salamanders, certain bony fish, sharks, and lampreys (a kind of jawless fish).[2][3][4] It is absent in mammals, but was present in their closest extinct relatives, the therapsids.[5] It is also absent in turtles and archosaurs, which includes birds and crocodilians, and their extinct relatives.[6]

Saniwa, an extinct varanid lizard, had two parietal eyes, one that developed from the pineal gland and the other from the parapineal gland. Saniwa is the only known jawed vertebrate to have both a pineal and a parapineal eye, as the only other vertebrates that have both are the jawless lampreys. In most vertebrates, the pineal gland forms the parietal eye, however, in lepidosaurs, it is formed from the parapineal gland. This implies that Saniwa reevolved the pineal eye.[7]


The parietal eye is a part of the epithalamus, which can be divided into two major parts; the epiphysis (the pineal organ, or pineal gland if mostly endocrine) and the parietal organ (often called the parietal eye, or third eye if it is photoreceptive). It arises as an anterior evagination of the pineal organ or as a separate outgrowth of the roof of the diencephalon. In some species, it protrudes through the skull.[8] The parietal eye uses a different biochemical method of detecting light from that of rod cells or cone cells in a normal vertebrate eye.[9]

Many of the oldest fossil vertebrates, including ostracoderms, placoderms, crossopterygians, and even early tetrapods, had a socket in the skull that appears to have held a functional third eye. This socket remains as a foramen between the parietal bones even in many living amphibians and reptiles, although it has vanished in birds and mammals. The third eye, where present, is always much smaller than the main paired eyes, and, in living species, it is always covered by skin, and is usually not readily visible externally.[10]

Among fish, lampreys have two parietal eyes, one that developed from the parapineal gland and the other from the pineal gland. These are one behind the other in the centre of the upper surface of the braincase. Because lampreys are among the most primitive of all living vertebrates, it is possible that this was the original condition among vertebrates, and may have allowed bottom-dwelling species to sense threats from above.[10]

Comparative anatomyEdit

The parietal eye of amphibians and reptiles appears relatively far forward in the skull; thus it may be surprising that the human pineal gland appears far away from this position, tucked away between the corpus callosum and cerebellum. Also the parietal bones, in humans, make up a portion of the rear of the skull, far from the eyes. To understand this, note that the parietal bones formed a part of the skull lying between the eyes in sarcopterygians and basal amphibians, but have moved further back in higher vertebrates.[11] Likewise, in the brain of the frog, the diencephalon, from which the pineal stalk arises, appears relatively further forward, as the cerebral hemispheres are smaller but the optic lobes are far more prominent than the human mesencephalon, which is part of the brain stem.[12] In humans the optic tract, commissure, and optic nerve bridge the substantial distance between eyes and diencephalon. Likewise the pineal stalk of Petromyzon elongates very considerably during metamorphosis.[13]

Analogs in other speciesEdit

Crustaceans have a single eye atop the head as a nauplius (first stage larva). The eye has a lens and senses the direction of light but cannot resolve more details in images. Later, more sophisticated segmented eyes develop on sides of the head while the initial eye stays for some time. So, it is possible to say that, at some stage of development, crustaceans also have a "third eye". Some species, like the brine shrimp, retain the primary eye, being three-eyed in the adult stage. Most arthropods have simple eyes, called ocelli, between their main eyes.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Eakin, R. M (1973). The Third Eye. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. ^ Dodt, Eberhard (1973). "The Parietal Eye (Pineal and Parietal Organs) of Lower Vertebrates". Visual Centers in the Brain. Handbook of Sensory Physiology. 7 / 3 / 3 B. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. pp. 113–140. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-65495-4_4. ISBN 9783642654978.
  3. ^ Uetz, Peter (2003-10-07). "Sphenodontidae". The EMBL reptile database. European Molecular Biology Laboratory, heidelberg. Archived from the original on 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  4. ^ Gundy, GC; Wurst, GZ (1976). "The occurrence of parietal eyes in recent Lacertilia (Reptilia)". Journal of Herpetology. 10 (2): 113–121. doi:10.2307/1562791. JSTOR 1562791.
  5. ^ Benoit, Julien; Abdala, Fernando; Manger, Paul R.; Rubidge, Bruce S. (2016-03-17). "The Sixth Sense in Mammalian Forerunners: Variability of the Parietal Foramen and the Evolution of the Pineal Eye in South African Permo-Triassic Eutheriodont Therapsids". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 61 (4): 777–789. doi:10.4202/app.00219.2015. ISSN 0567-7920.
  6. ^ Emerling, Christopher A. (2017-03-01). "Archelosaurian Color Vision, Parietal Eye Loss, and the Crocodylian Nocturnal Bottleneck". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 34 (3): 666–676. doi:10.1093/molbev/msw265. ISSN 1537-1719. PMID 27940498.
  7. ^ Smith, Krister T.; Bhullar, Bhart-Anjan S.; Köhler, Gunther; Habersetzer, Jörg (2 April 2018). "The Only Known Jawed Vertebrate with Four Eyes and the Bauplan of the Pineal Complex". Current Biology. 28 (7): 1101–1107.e2. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.021. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 29614279.
  8. ^ Zug, George; Vitt, Laurie Vitt; Caldwell, Janalee (2002). Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles, Second Edition. San Diego: Academic Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-12-782622-6.
  9. ^ Xiong, Wei-Hong; Solessio, Eduardo C.; Yau, King-Wai (1998). "An unusual cGMP pathway underlying depolarizing light response of the vertebrate parietal-eye photoreceptor". Nature Neuroscience. 1 (5): 359–65. doi:10.1038/1570. PMID 10196524. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  10. ^ a b Romer, Alfred Sherwood; Parsons, Thomas S. (1977). The Vertebrate Body. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. pp. 471–473. ISBN 978-0-03-910284-5.
  11. ^ "FRONTAL AND PARIETAL BONES=". Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  12. ^ "Edible Frog Brain Clipart". Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  13. ^ Journal of morphology - Google Books. 1887. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  14. ^ Mayer, Georg (2006-12-01). "Structure and development of onychophoran eyes: What is the ancestral visual organ in arthropods?". Arthropod Structure & Development. 35 (4): 231–245. doi:10.1016/j.asd.2006.06.003. ISSN 1467-8039. PMID 18089073.