Colour thresholds and receptor noise: behaviour and physiology compared

Vision Res. 2001 Mar;41(5):639-53. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(00)00288-1.


Photoreceptor noise sets an absolute limit for the accuracy of colour discrimination. We compared colour thresholds in the honeybee (Apis mellifera) with this limit. Bees were trained to discriminate an achromatic stimulus from monochromatic lights of various wavelengths as a function of their intensity. Signal-to-noise ratios were measured by intracellular recordings in the three spectral types of photoreceptor cells. To model thresholds we assumed that discrimination was mediated by opponent mechanisms whose performance was limited by receptor noise. Most of the behavioural thresholds were close to those predicted from receptor signal-to-noise ratios, suggesting that colour discrimination in honeybees is affected by photoreceptor noise. Some of the thresholds were lower than this theoretical limit, which indicates summation of photoreceptor cell signals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Differential Threshold / physiology
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*