Limits of colour vision in dim light

Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2010 Sep;30(5):454-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2010.00721.x.


Humans and most vertebrates have duplex retinae with multiple cone types for colour vision in bright light, and one single rod type for achromatic vision in dim light. Instead of comparing signals from multiple spectral types of photoreceptors, such species use one highly sensitive receptor type thus improving the signal-to-noise ratio at night. However, the nocturnal hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor, the nocturnal bee Xylocopa tranquebarica and the nocturnal gecko Tarentola chazaliae can discriminate colours at extremely dim light intensities. To be able to do so, they sacrifice spatial and temporal resolution in favour of colour vision. We review what is known about colour vision in dim light, and compare colour vision thresholds with the optical sensitivity of the photoreceptors in selected animal species with lens and compound eyes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Dark Adaptation / physiology
  • Darkness*
  • Eye / anatomy & histology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Species Specificity