Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Many species of land animals have a nictitating membrane, sometimes (but incorrectly) spelled nicitating membrane, which can move across the eyeball to give the sensitive eye structures additional protection in particular circumstances. It is often called a third eyelid or haw.
Nictitating membranes are found in crocodiles, lizards, birds and some species of mammals. In humans, the nictitating membrane is the apparently useless pink lump in the inner corner of the eyes, it is permanently folded into that corner and no longer functions, apparently rendered redundant by evolution some time in the past. Unlike human eyelids, the nictitating membrane moves horizontally across the eyeball. It is normally translucent. In some diving animals, for example beavers and manatees, it moves across the eye to protect it while under water, and in these species it is transparent; in other diving animals including sea lions, it is activated on land, to remove sand and other debris. This is its function in most animals. In birds of prey, it also serves to protect the parents' eyes from their chicks while they are feeding them. In polar bears it protects the eyes from snow blindness.
In many species, any stimulus to the eyeball (such as a puff of air) will result in reflex nictitating membrane response. This reflex is widely used as the basis for experiments on classical conditioning in rabbits.
Nictitating membranes are also popular in fictional characters such as Vulcans, presumably because they confer a non-human appearance.
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