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How Do Animals Perceive the World?

Scientists demonstrate how animals view the world, and why their vision influences the way they look.

The wing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, as seen under blacklight. Photo: Seabrooke Leckie

Ever wondered what the world looks like from the point of view of a bird, dog or beetle? Scientists from the Royal Society’s Summer Exhibition in London demonstrated how animals perceive the world, and in turn, why animals look the way they do.

The BBC has the full scoop:

Birds can see many more colours than us because they have four types of cone cells, known as photoreceptors, in their eyes rather than our three.

Birds can see UV light, which enhances the contrast of some feather patterns, such as the ‘eye’ markings on a peacock’s tail.

In contrast, many mammals have only two types of cones, creating a similar colour perception to humans with red-green colour blindness. A dog’s “dichromatic” view of the world is shown in this image of an owner’s legs. “Animals like dogs rely on olfaction so much that their vision isn’t as developed,” said Dr Pike.

Unlike birds and insects, mammals mostly rely on color to blend into their surroundings rather than for complex communication cues.

The colourful, iridescent bodies of many insects are known to reveal more to their kin than to our eyes. Dr Pike explains that scientists use instruments, such as this spectrophotometer being applied to a scarab beetle (Torynorrhina slammea), “to objectively measure colour – so we are not being guided by what we think we see.”

Scarabs, for example, are one of the only species that can see and reflect circular polarized light, which scientists think they use as a hidden communication channel.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How to Identify a Bird From a Single Feather 

Snake Spotting Theory Brings Primate Vision into Focus 

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