As humans, we are amazed when we think about the millions of different colors that we are able to see. If you thought that that was amazing, however, you really need to consider the capabilities of the hummingbird. According to a recently published study, hummingbirds may be able to see millions of more colors than humans!
Humans see colors with three retinal cones, but research shows that hummingbirds may have a forthcoming. It allows them to detect ultraviolet light, which is beyond the capability of humans. In other words, humans see three dimensions of color and hummingbirds are able to see four dimensions of color.
According to a statement from the lead author and assistant professor at Princeton University, Mary Caswell Stoddard, “Humans are color-blind compared to birds and many other animals. Not only does having a fourth color cone type extend the range of bird-visible colors into the UV, but it also potentially allows birds to perceive combination colors like ultraviolet plus green and ultraviolet plus red – but this has been hard to test.”
You can see the study in full in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Only a small portion of the visible light spectrum is able to be seen by humans. There are also additional colors, such as purple or green, which are combinations of primary colors that can be seen. Thanks to the fourth retinal cone, hummingbirds can see ultraviolet and red separately from each other.
Stoddard talks about the perceptual experiments they conducted on birds. She talks about how hummingbirds are perfect for studying color vision. After all, they love sugar and respond to the color of flowers that attract animals by using colors and then giving them a nectar reward.
Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, the Rocky Mount biological laboratory, and the University of Maryland got together to do the research. Tubes with many colors were used on birdfeeders in order to do the experiment.
Researchers were able to use hummingbirds because they love sugar. They were able to determine that the hummingbirds were “correctly choosing the ultraviolet plus green light associated with sugar water,” according to Harold Eyster, the co-author of the study.
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