Now researchers can see through the eyes of animals

12 Aug 2015

A new piece of software has been developed that shows us how the likes of bumblebees and lizards view the world, offering researchers a whole new way of monitoring species.

Many animals can see colours beyond that of human capabilities, others, though, can see far less. This is all down to the types of photoreceptors (cones and rods) we have in our eyes.

Humans (three cones) can see a relatively large amount of colours in comparison to other mammals, but insects, lizards, birds and sea creatures often have more cones and, potentially, better scope.

The butterfly (five cones) and mantis shrimp (15 cones), for example, lead the way in the potential for extremely colourful vision, with dogs and cats (two cones) lagging behind.

Of course, there is more to it than just the cones, with an abundance of rods in the retina of the eye allowing for better peripheral and night vision.

Ultraviolet added extra

Additionally, the detection of ultraviolet light is key to the existence of the likes of bees, who need to distinguish pollen-heavy plants from the array of fauna littered throughout the planet.

So, they see things remarkably differently to you and I. And now, thanks to a report published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, we can see just how differently.

In a piece of open software (available here on Jolyon Troscianko’s website) you can now see how bees see fauna, or how lizards see each other.

Troscianko, who penned the report with Martin Stevens, has been working with the software for a while. His pictures show just how weird our world looks through someone else’s eye.

For example here is how a human (left) and a lizard (right) sees another lizard.

Lizard animal vision

And here is how bees view plants (right) that we consider green and purple:bumblebee animal vision Tenerife-Astydamia-latifolia Tenerife-Narrow-Leaved-Bugloss-2 | bumblebee animal vision Tenerife-Narrow-Leaved-Bugloss | bumblebee animal vision

This is hardly the first time we’ve tried to look at the world like an animal. A few years back Jay Neitz, a scientist in the US, looked into dog vision.

Their two cones (blue-yellow visual capabilities) mean they can’t distinguish between red and green tomatoes while we (bottom) can, thanks to our three cones (red, green and blue).

Dog vision | Animal vision

Main image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic