Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute, based at The University of Queensland and led by ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Justin Marshall, have advanced our understanding of how animals see and use colour and colour patterns to sense the world, and how their colour vision has evolved. From this, we can also learn about how this might apply to humans.

Earlier studies by the team explored the great variation of the role that colour plays across animal species, based on factors such as environment (for example for camouflage, warning and for reproduction), physical factors (for example, toxicity and light availability), and whether an animal is either the predator or the prey.

The research provides insight into how a variety of animals use colours that are invisible to the human eye, such as ultraviolet light. Some animals use biological phenomena such as fluorescence, bioluminescence and, perhaps surprisingly, many invertebrates such as mantis shrimps have more complex colour vision than humans.

The research team recently discovered complex colour vision in deep-sea fish, opening a new world of understanding vision in a variety of light conditions. They are also working on brains and vision in cephalopods such as squid, cuttlefish and the blue-ringed octopus.

The results challenge the standing paradigm of the function and evolution of vertebrate visual systems.

Image: The blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena sp.) is predated by stomatopod crustaceans (mantis shrimp). All octopus, including blue-ringed octopuses, are colour blind, while mantis shrimps possess four times as many colour channels as humans. The blue-ring’s colours evolved to warn other species that can see the colour contrast of their rings.
Image credit: Roy Caldwell.