Modelling oil droplet absorption spectra and spectral sensitivities of bird cone photoreceptors

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2005 Apr;191(4):381-92. doi: 10.1007/s00359-004-0595-3. Epub 2005 Feb 15.


Birds have four spectrally distinct types of single cones that they use for colour vision. It is often desirable to be able to model the spectral sensitivities of the different cone types, which vary considerably between species. However, although there are several mathematical models available for describing the spectral absorption of visual pigments, there is no model describing the spectral absorption of the coloured oil droplets found in three of the four single cone types. In this paper, we describe such a model and illustrate its use in estimating the spectral sensitivities of single cones. Furthermore, we show that the spectral locations of the wavelengths of maximum absorbance (lambda(max)) of the short- (SWS), medium- (MWS) and long- (LWS) wavelength-sensitive visual pigments and the cut-off wavelengths (lambda(cut)) of their respective C-, Y- and R-type oil droplets can be predicted from the lambda(max) of the ultraviolet- (UVS)/violet- (VS) sensitive visual pigment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oils / analysis*
  • Pigmentation
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / chemistry*
  • Retinal Pigments / chemistry*
  • Species Specificity
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Oils
  • Retinal Pigments