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How Animals See Color?

How do animals see color, which animals have superior color vision, and which have worse? There was a common myth about the vision of Cats and Dogs, that they can only see in black and white. While this is true for some animals, Cats and Dogs do have better color vision than was once believed.

Infrared Vision

How gold fish see color?

Some animals have natural infrared receptors which detects the heat from objects and other animals. Some snakes can see infrared light. Mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects, Piranhas, Gold Fish and Salmon can also see infrared light. Bullfrogs are included in this, and likely some other frog species.     

Monochromatic Vision

Monochromatic is when animals only have one cone receptor, which allows them to only see in black, white and varying shades of gray. Some bat species and rodents have monochromatic vision. Most mammals that spend much of their time in the water only have monochromatic vision, such as Whales, Seals, Dolphins and Walruses.

Dichromatic Vision

Dichromatic vision is the ability to detect two different colors. Dogs are included in this; dogs do have the ability to detect the wavelengths of Green and Blue, but not the long wavelengths of Red. This is because they only have two types of cone cells in their eyes, which can detect low to middle wavelengths, or colors Green and Blue.

This is also true for the majority of mammals, including, Cows, Rabbits and Rodents. While these animals only have the cones to detect Blue and Green, it’s believed that many things will appear yellow. This is likely because their eyes let in more light, due to having more rod cells, this distorts and lightens the colors.

How cats see color?

Trichromatic Vision

This is full color vision, with three types of wavelength detecting cone receptors, which detect colors Red, Green and Blue. We Humans fit into this group, also Monkeys and most primate species. The majority of fish species have full color vision which can exceed ours, however with some exceptions.

Cats also have three types of cone receptors like us. However a Cats color vision is still believed to be more limited than ours, due to having an eye receptor balance that has a higher amount of light detecting rod cells, rather than color detecting cone cells. So it’s a priority for night vision over color vision.

Diurnal & Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal animals tend to have worse color vision, which makes perfect sense, because if an animal is mostly awake, or hunts mostly at night it doesn’t really need good color vision. Nocturnal animals tend to have more rod cells or receptors, rather than cone receptors. Rod receptors are better at letting in light and tracking movement and shapes, which is much more important if you are a night time active animal.

Animals That See Ultraviolet

In order for an animal to see Ultraviolet light it needs an extra cone receptor, giving certain animals better color vision than us. Some Fish species can detect Ultra Violet light. Insects, including bees and butterflies can also see ultraviolet light. UV light detection is also common in many bird species.

Best Color Vision

How birds see color?

Birds in general have some of the best color vision. Some fish and insects, particularly the gold fish and the butterfly have great color vision. However the animal with the best color vision is the Mantis Shrimp. We humans have 3 cone receptors for detecting color, however the Mantis Shrimp has been found to have 12 to 16 cone receptors, potentially giving it amazing color vision, likely to be-able to see both infrared and ultraviolet light.