The retina of mammals contains various amounts of cone photoreceptors that are relatively evenly distributed and display a radially or horizontally oriented area of peak density. In most mammalian species two spectrally different classes of cone can be distinguished with various histochemical and physiological methods. These cone classes occur in a relatively constant ratio, middle-to-longwave sensitive cones being predominant over short-wave cones. Recent observations do not support the idea that each cone subpopulation is uniformly distributed across the retina. With appropriate type-specific markers, unexpected patterns of colour cone topography have been revealed in certain species. In the mouse and the rabbit, the "standard" uniform pattern was found to be confined exclusively to the dorsal retina. In a ventral zone of variable width all cones express short-wave pigment, a phenomenon whose biological significance is not known yet. Dorso-ventral asymmetries have been described in lower vertebrates, matching the spectral distribution of light reaching the retina from various sectors of the visual field. It is not clear, however, whether the retinal cone fields in mammals carry out a function similar to that of their counterparts in fish and amphibians. Since in a number of mammalian species short-wave cones are the first to differentiate, and the expression of the short-wave pigment seems to be the default pathway of cone differentiation, we suggest that the short-wave sensitive cone fields are rudimentary areas conserving an ancestral stage of the photopigment evolution.