Drosophila possesses an inherited reflex response to a moving visual pattern which can be used to measure its capacity for intensity discrimination and its visual acuity at different illuminations. It is found that these two properties of vision run approximately parallel courses as functions of the prevailing intensity.
Visual acuity varies with the logarithm of the intensity in much the same sigmoid way as in man, the bee, and the fiddler crab. The resolving power is very poor at low illuminations and increases at high illuminations. The maximum visual acuity is 0.0018, which is 1/1000 of the maximum of the human eye and 1/10 that of the bee.
The intensity discrimination of Drosophila is also extremely poor, even at its best. At low illuminations for two intensities to be recognized as different, the higher must be nearly 100 times the lower. This ratio decreases as the intensity increases, and reaches a minimum of 2.5 which is maintained at the highest intensities. The minimum value of ΔI/I for Drosophila is 1.5, which is to be compared with 0.25 for the bee and 0.006 for man.
An explanation of the variation of visual acuity with illumination is given in terms of the variation in number of elements functional in the retinal mosaic at different intensities, this being dependent on the general statistical distribution of thresholds in the ommatidial population. Visual acuity is thus determined by the integral form of this distribution and corresponds to the total number of elements functional. The idea that intensity discrimination is determined by the differential form of this distribution—that is, that it depends on the rate of entrance of functional elements with intensity—is shown to be untenable in the light of the correspondence of the two visual functions. It is suggested that, like visual acuity, intensity discrimination may also have to be considered as a function of the total number of elements active at a given intensity.