The human eye can see millions of colors, but thanks to a feature that humans don’t have, hummingbirds can see millions more colors, according to a recently published study.
Research indicates that hummingbirds have a fourth retinal cone capable of detecting ultraviolet light, something humans cannot do. This allows them to see four dimensions of color, compared to three for humans.
“Humans are colorblind compared to birds and many other animals,” study lead author and assistant professor at Princeton University, Mary Caswell Stoddard, said in a statement. “Having a fourth color cone type not only extends the range of colors visible to birds to UV rays, it also allows birds to perceive combined colors such as ultraviolet greener and ultraviolet redder, but this has been difficult to try. “
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The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Humans can see a small portion of the visible light spectrum and some other colors that are not part of the spectrum, such as purple, which is made up of red and yellow, or green, which is made up of blue and yellow. Hummingbirds, however, use their fourth cone to see ultraviolet and red completely separately.
“The most detailed perceptual experiments on birds are done in the laboratory, but we risk losing the broader picture of how birds actually use color vision in their daily lives,” added Stoddard. Hummingbirds are perfect for studying color vision in nature. These sugar demons have evolved to respond to the colors of the flowers that announce a nectar reward, so they can learn color associations quickly and with little training. ”
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To reach their findings, scientists at Princeton, the University of British Columbia, Harvard, the University of Maryland and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory created bird feeders that had tubes with a wide range of colors.
With hummingbirds and their love of sugar, the researchers were able to see hummingbirds “correctly choosing the greenest ultraviolet light associated with sugary water,” said study co-author Harold Eyster.
“It was amazing to see it,” added Eyster. “Our experiments allowed us to take a look at what the world looks like for a hummingbird.”
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