Friday, February 8, 2019

How Do Animals See Color?

Denise Turner, ASID,CID,CMG

Does a red matador cape really make bulls angry? How do bees know which flowers are full of nectar? How do cats see an insect and know where to pounce on it, usually before a person is even aware of it? 

It’s not easy to imagine what the world looks like through another creature’s eyes. Because, after all, we’ve only seen it through our own. This is perhaps why most people, scientists included, have assumed that other animals can only see in shades of grey in the dark. 

But the latest scientific research is proving us all wrong. In fact, some species, including nocturnal geckoes, moths, bats, and lemurs, have color vision even in near-total darkness. Researchers now have evidence that suggests that color vision at night might be quite common among animals. It makes perfect sense that animals have color vision. Otherwise how would they find mates or food and shelter?  

Color vision and perception differs throughout the animal kingdom and we’re just now understanding this topic on a more nuanced level. Color camouflage, for instance, one of nature's favorite survival mechanisms, depends on the ability of the predator to distinguish colors. 

Studies have shown that many animals can see things that humans can’t. For example, cats are nocturnal and rely on highly developed night vision, which gives them an advantage when hunting for prey. Our human ancestors, on the other hand, couldn’t see well in the dark, so they hunted during the daylight hours and sought safe refuge at night.  

Honeybees have extremely complex eyes that consist of over 5000 ommatidia. Within each ommatidium, there are up to 6,900 tiny lenses, each with a specialized skill of detecting patterns, polarized light, color and motion. Bee and butterflies’ vision extends into the ultraviolet wavelength. The flower petals they pollinate have special ultraviolet patterns that help guide the insects to the flowers. 

Humans and primates have the most advanced color perception, whereas the majority of mammals have relatively low color vision. 

For my fellow dog lovers, I’m sorry to say that dogs have only two identified types of cones, suggesting that they are dichromats. This classification has similar peak sensitivities to that of red-green colorblind humans.

For my cat-loving friends, you’ll be happy to know that cats are trichromatic (able to see all the primary colors: red, blue, yellow). But then, you probably already knew that! They do have a much lower proportion of cones to rods than do humans.  

As you might suspect, dogs and cats have a much more highly developed sense of smell than that of humans. We rely mainly on sight, whereas our canine and feline family members’ perception of the world is far more reliant on olfactory stimuli (sense of smell). 

As for bulls, contrary to popular belief, they actually can’t distinguish color at all and only see the bullfighter’s red cape in shades of gray. In reality, the bull merely follows the bull fighter’s movements, but does not perceive it as red.  

Denise Turner-masterfully navigates two worlds of color. As an international, award-winning interior designer and colorist, she helps businesses to drive sales with color. As a ColorTherapy expert and Energy Medicine healer, she utilizes color to empower others to heal themselves and their families. Turner is an ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) professional member, Certified Interior Designer, former CMG (Color Marketing Group) Board of Director, former ASID chapter president, and UCLA graduate.