The microvasculature of the eye of the duckling was studied with microcorrosion casting, scanning electron microscopy, and stereology. Most blood to the eyeball first passes through the arterial ophthalmic rete mirabile, a complex of small arteries which intermixes with a similar complex of veins (venous ophthalmic rete mirabile) at the ventrotemporal angle of the eye. The present study reveals the ultrastructural anatomy and the compact, three‐dimensional arrangement of vessels in this rete, which had been shown by previous investigators to function as a countercurrent heat exchanger. Vessels from this rete include the supraorbital and infraorbital arteries, which supply the eyeball anteriorly, and the ophthalmotemporal artery, which supplies the eyeball posteriorly. The internal ophthalmic and ethmoidal arteries, branches of the cerebral carotid artery, anastomose with the ophthalmotemporal artery posteriorly. Blood is distributed to the eyeball anteriorly by two ring arteries: the iridial ring artery, which circumscribes the iris and which receives blood from the long ciliary and infraorbital arteries; and the more peripheral, ciliary ring artery, which receives blood mostly from the infraorbital and ethmoidal arteries. Within the iris is a dense, freely anastomosing bed of capillaries which extends to the edge of the pupil and then loops back beneath the ciliary body. The vasculature of the ciliary body consists of radially arranged plates of anastomosing capillaries of irregular bore which mimic the contours of that organ, but permit changes in pupil diameter. The present study demonstrates the three‐dimensional anatomy of the very dense capillary net of the choriocapillaris deep to the retina and the capillary mass of the pecten, and thus supports the finding of earlier investigators that nutrients diffusing from these structures nourish the avascular retina. The pecten consists of a pleated sheet of freely anastomosing capillaries which protrudes into the vitreous body from near the optic nerve. The choriocapillaris and the pecten are supplied by branches of the ophthalmotemporal artery: the former by numerous short posterior ciliary arteries, the latter by two or three arteries which further divide into one or two smaller vessels for each of its folds. Veins of the choroid layer at the periphery of the anterior surface of the eyeball, and to some extent on its lateral walls, are revealed by the corrosion‐casting technique as unusual, flattened vessels of large caliber which lie in closely spaced parallel arrays. The large surface area thus created may function in heat dissipation. These veins join with others from the choriocapillaris to form a large dorsal and a large ventral posterior ciliary vein. Blood from the pecten and from the choriocapillaris in the nasal, central, and temporal regions of the posterior surface of the eyeball is drained by the ophthalmotemporal vein. Vascular casts of veins are often distinguishable from those of arteries by bore morphology and by the presence of valves, but also by the shapes of endothelial nuclear depressions left in the plastic. The high resolution obtained with the present technique reveals details of microvasculature and of vessel distribution in the avian eye not previously described. Names for some of these vessels are suggested.
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