The distribution of short wavelength-sensitive (SWS or "blue") cone photoreceptors was compared in primates with dichromatic ("red-green colour blind") and trichromatic colour vision. We compared a New World species, the marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), with an Old World species, the macaque monkey (Macaca nemestrina). The SWS cones were identified by their immunoreactivity to an antiserum against the human SWS cone opsin. A single retina from a male capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) also was studied. The SWS cones make up less than 10% of all cone photoreceptors throughout the retina of all animals studied. In marmoset, the peak spatial density of SWS cones is close to 10,000/mm2 at the foveola. In macaque, the peak spatial density of SWS cones, close to 6,000/mm2, is at the fovea, but SWS cones are absent within 50 microm of the centre of the foveola. In both species, the density of SWS cones is higher on the nasal retinal axis than at corresponding eccentricities on the other retinal axes. The SWS cones in macaque are arranged in a semiregular array, but they are distributed randomly in marmoset. There is no difference in the spatial density or local arrangement of SWS cones between dichromatic and trichromatic marmosets. The results suggest that the SWS cone photoreceptor system is subject to different developmental and evolutionary constraints than those that have led to the formation of the red-green photoreceptor systems in primate vision.