A defined set of genetic instructions encodes functionality in complex organisms. Delineating these unique genetic signatures is essential to understanding the formation and functionality of specialized tissues. Vision, one of the five central senses of perception, is initiated by the retina and has evolved over time to produce rod and cone photoreceptors that vary in a species-specific manner, and in some cases by geographical region resulting in higher order visual acuity in humans. RNA-sequencing and use of existing and de novo transcriptome assemblies allowed ocular transcriptome mapping from a diverse set of rodent and primate species. Global genomic refinements along with systems-based comparative and co-expression analyses of these transcriptome maps identified gene modules that correlated with specific features of rod versus cone retinal cellular composition. Organization of the ocular transcriptome demonstrated herein defines the molecular basis of photoreceptor architecture and functionality, providing a new paradigm for neurogenetic analyses of the mammalian retina in health and disease.