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Animal colour vision

Animals – including humans – use colour cues to detect, recognize and discriminate objects such as flowers, fruit, mates and traffic signs. General models of colour vision have recently been developed, and many new results have been obtained.

However, many species see colour, in different ways, and there are still many open questions. We address some of them:

  • Which animals, besides moths and geckos possess nocturnal color vision? We are presently investigating whether frogs and toads can use their two rod types to see colour at night.
  • Why have marine mammals lost their blue-sensitive cone? Are they colour-blind or do they use rods for colour vision?
  • Why do some butterflies have a red-receptor where others don’t? How did this evolve, and what is the ecological relevance?
  • How does the receptor mosaic in the retina relate to the spatial resolution of chromatic and achromatic vision?
  • How do male damselflies see the three colour morphs of females, and how do females create their colours?
  • How well can tetrachromatic birds discriminate colours – compared to humans?

There are many more open questions to be posed, and students with own questions on colour vision are always welcome!

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People involved


Joaquin Goyret, University of Tennessee