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Ultraviolet colour perception in European starlings and Japanese quail
journal contributionposted on 2002-11-01, 00:00 authored by E Smith, V Greenwood, Andy Bennett
Whereas humans have three types of cone photoreceptor, birds have four types of single cones and, unlike humans, are sensitive to ultraviolet light (UV, 320-400 run). Most birds are thought to have either a violet-sensitive single cone that has some sensitivity to UV wavelengths (for example, many non-passerine species) or a single cone that has maximum sensitivity to UV (for example, oscine passerine. species). UV sensitivity is possible because, unlike humans, avian ocular media do not absorb UV light before it reaches the retina. The different single cone types and their sensitivity to UV light give birds the potential to discriminate reflectance spectra that look identical to humans. It is clear that birds use UV signals for a number of visual tasks, but there are few studies that directly demonstrate a role for UV in the detection of chromaticity differences (i.e. colour vision) as opposed to achromatic brightness. If the output of the violet/UV cone is used in achromatic visual tasks, objects reflecting more UV will appear brighter to the bird. 11, however, the output is used in a chromatic mechanism, birds will be able to discriminate spectral stimuli according to the amount of reflected light in the UV part of the spectrum relative to longer wavelengths. We have developed a UV 'colour blindness' test, which we have given to a passerine (European starling) and a non-passerine (Japanese quail) species. Both species learnt to discriminate between a longwave control of orange vs red stimuli and UV vs 'non-UV' stimuli, which were designed to be impossible to differentiate by achromatic mechanisms. We therefore conclude that the output of the violet/UV cone is involved in a chromatic colour vision system in these two species.