Ultraviolet “television” designed for animals helps us better understand them

University of Queensland scientists have developed an ultraviolet “TV” screen designed to help researchers better understand how animals view the world.

To date, standard screens have been used on devices such as televisions or computer monitors to display visual stimuli in animal vision studies, but none has been able to test ultraviolet vision – the ability to see wavelengths of light shorter than 400 nanometers.

Dr. Samuel Powell, of the Queensland Brain Institute’s Marshall Laboratory, said this new technology will help uncover the secrets of vision in all kinds of animals, such as fish, birds and insects.

“Human televisions generally use three colors – red, green and blue – to create images, but our newly developed screens have five colors, including violet and UV,” said Dr. Powell.

“With this display, it is now possible to show simple shapes of animals, to test their ability to distinguish between colors, or their perception of movement by moving point patterns.

“We affectionately call it“ UV-TV, ”but I doubt anyone would want one in their home!

“You have to wear sunglasses and sunscreen while watching it, and the resolution is pretty low – 8 x 12 pixels in a 4 x 5 cm area – so don’t expect to watch Netflix in UV rays anytime soon.

This extremely low resolution is sufficient to show point patterns for a fish perception test, in what is known as the Ishihara test, which would be familiar to anyone who has been tested for color blindness.

“In this test, humans read a number hidden in a set of colored dots, but because animals cannot read the numbers to us, they were trained to bring out the“ odd point ”from a field of dots of different colors.

Dr Karen Cheney of the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences said the technology will allow researchers to broaden our understanding of animal biology.

“There are many color patterns in nature that are invisible to us because we cannot detect ultraviolet rays,” said Dr. Cheney.

“Bees use UV patterns on flowers to locate nectar, for example, and fish can recognize individuals using the UV patterns for the face.”

“We recently started studying the vision of an anemonefish or clownfish – also known as Nemo – which, unlike humans, has UV-sensitive vision.

“Our research already shows that the white stripes on anemones also reflect UV rays, so we think that UV signals can be used to recognize each other and may be involved in signaling dominance within their social group.

“Who knows what other discoveries we can make now about how certain animals behave, interact and think.

“This technology allows us to understand how animals see the world, and helps answer important questions about animal behavior.”


The research has been published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.1111 / 2041-210X.13555).

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