Ultraviolet vision and foraging in terrestrial vertebrates


  • Johanna Honkavaara,

  • Minna Koivula,

  • Erkki Korpimäki,

  • Heli Siitari,

  • Jussi Viitala

J. Honkavaara, H. Siitari, J. Viitala, Univ. of Jyväskylä Konnevesi Res. Stat., FIN-44300 Konnevesi, Finland (johonkav@dodo.jyu.fi). – M. Koivula, MTT, Agrifood Res. Finland, Animal Production Res., FIN-31600 Jokioinen, Finland. – E. Korpimäki, Dept Biol., Univ. of Turku, FIN-20014 Turku, Finland.


Tetrachromatic colour vision, based on four ‘main’ colours and their combinations, is probably the original colour vision in terrestrial vertebrates. In addition to human visible waveband of light (400–700 nm) and three main colours, it also includes the near ultraviolet part of light spectrum (320–400 nm). The ecological importance of ultraviolet (UV) vision in animals has mainly been studied in the context of intra- and inter-sexual signalling, but recently the importance of UV vision in foraging has received more attention. Foraging animals may use either UV cues (reflectance or absorbance) of food items or UV cues of the environment. So far, all diurnal birds studied (at least 35 species), some rodents (4 species), many reptilians (11 species) and amphibians (2 species) are likely able to see near UV light. This probably allows e.g. diurnal raptors as well as frugivorous, nectarivorous and insectivorous birds to use foraging cues invisible to humans. The possible role of UV cues and existing light conditions should be taken into account when food selection of vertebrate animals is studied, particularly, in experiments with artificial food items.