Unconventional colour vision

Curr Biol. 2014 Dec 15;24(24):R1150-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.025.


Butterflies and stomatopods are certainly outliers in their unconventional colour sense and despite some similarities at first glance, in fact sample the world of colour very differently. In one way, butterflies are relatively conventional, possessing either tri-or tetrachromatic colour vision, then just adding one or several task-specific sub-mechanisms onto this. It is the stomatopods so far that have really pushed the boat out into a different colour vision mechanism. Over 400 million years of independent evolution they have arrived at a solution with more in common with the way a satellite sensor examines the colours of the earth than other animals. Remember, however, that unconventional colour vision is not just the realm of the serially polychromatic. Apparently waterfleas with four classes of spectral receptors living in ponds operate a task-specific spectral sense with no need, or indeed neural processing power, to construct a complex discriminatory mechanism. It seems they have the butterfly added-extra set without the more complex comparative chromatic mechanisms, although in truth, conclusive behavioural proof is lacking. Behavioural observation of colour vision in the ecological context of each animal is vital before making the distinction between conventional and unconventional. Just counting spectral sensitivities is never enough.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Color Perception*
  • Color Vision*
  • Invertebrates / physiology*
  • Vertebrates / physiology*