Ultraviolet receptors and color vision: evolutionary implications and a dissonance of paradigms

Vision Res. 1994 Jun;34(11):1479-87. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(94)90150-3.


The discovery of visual sensitivity to UV dates from 1882 and was made in an insect, the ant, but in the last 15 years evidence for photoreceptors maximally sensitive in the UV has been found for many vertebrates. Studies of behavioral responses of insects that possess more than one spectral class of photoreceptor have generated the concept of wavelength-dependent behaviors. These phenomena are distinct from color vision, where chromatic information can be used in multiple associations. Recent work on vertebrates has shown a variety of behavioral responses that appear to be based on specific combinations of spectral classes of receptors. Among these are behavioral responses of birds that are maximally sensitive in the UV, surprising findings since the retinas of birds contain only relatively small numbers of cones with peak sensitivity in the UV. These and other examples, suggestive of both wavelength-dependent behaviors of arthropods and "releasers" of ethology, emphasize anew the need for explanatory concepts that reach beyond the paradigms of primate color vision and for greater attention to the ontogeny of visually-directed behavior in non-mammalian vertebrates. The rapidly accumulating data on the evolutionary relationships of opsins continue to suggest that within specific opsin lineages the absorption maxima of the retinal-based visual pigments lie within about 40 nm of each other. Some UV pigments may provide the first exception to this generalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birds
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Fishes
  • Insecta
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Pigments / physiology
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Retinal Pigments