Animal-eye view of the world revealed with new visual software

Below is a press release about the Open Access Methods paper ‘Image calibration and analysis toolbox – a free software suite for objectively measuring reflectance, colour and pattern‘ taken from the University of Exeter:

New camera technology that reveals the world through the eyes of animals has been developed by University of Exeter researchers. The details are published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Echium angustifolium in Tenerife (Borage family). To us the flowers are a fairly uniform purple, but bees can see two UV absorbent patches at the top of the flower.

Echium angustifolium in Tenerife (Borage family). To us the flowers are a fairly uniform purple, but bees can see two UV absorbent patches at the top of the flower.

The software, which converts digital photos to animal vision, can be used to analyse colours and patterns and is particularly useful for the study of animal and plant signalling, camouflage and animal predation, but could also prove useful for anyone wanting to measure colours accurately and objectively.

The software has already been used by the Sensory Ecology group in a wide range of studies, such as colour change in green shore crabs, tracking human female face colour changes through the ovulation cycle, and determining the aspects of camouflage that protect nightjar clutches from being spotted by potential predators.

Jolyon Troscianko from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter said: “Viewing the world through the eyes of another animal has now become much easier thanks to our new software.

“Digital cameras are powerful tools for measuring colours and patterns in nature but until now it has been surprisingly difficult to use digital photos to make accurate and reliable measurements of colour. Our software allows us to calibrate images and convert them to animal vision, so that we can measure how the scene might look to humans and non-humans alike.

“We hope that other scientists will use this open access software to help with their digital image analysis.”

Two Tenerife lizards (Gallotia galloti) basking. The image on the left is in human-visible colours and although the male at the top is more colourful than the female at the bottom, he is still fairly well camouflaged amongst the foliage. However, the dusky blue/grey patches on his cheek and bars on his flank are much more conspicuous to the female lizard than ourselves, as highlighted in the false colour UV image on the right.

Two Tenerife lizards (Gallotia galloti) basking. The image on the left is in human-visible colours and although the male at the top is more colourful than the female at the bottom, he is still fairly well camouflaged amongst the foliage. However, the dusky blue/grey patches on his cheek and bars on his flank are much more conspicuous to the female lizard than ourselves, as highlighted in the false colour UV image on the right.

Until now, there has been no user-friendly software programme that enables researchers to calibrate their images, incorporate multiple layers – visible and UV channels -, convert to animal colour spaces, and to measure images easily. Instead, researchers have needed to do much of this manually, including the sometimes complex programming and calculations involved. This freely available open source software now offers a user-friendly solution.

Dandelion as seen to human vision (left), and honeybee vision (right). The centre of the flower absorbs UV while the ends of the petals reflects it.

Dandelion as seen to human vision (left), and honeybee vision (right). The centre of the flower absorbs UV while the ends of the petals reflects it.

Colour vision varies substantially across the animal kingdom, and can even vary within a given species. Most humans and old-world monkeys have eyes sensitive to three colours; red, green and blue, which is more than other mammals that are only sensitive to blue and yellow. It is impossible for humans to imagine seeing the world in more than three primary colours, but this is common in most birds, reptiles, amphibians and many insects that see in four or more. Many of them can also see into the ultraviolet range, a world completely invisible to us without the use of full spectrum cameras. So scientists studying these species need to measure UV to understand how these animals view the world.

Lesser Celandine in human-vision (left) and honeybee vision (right). There’s a striking colour difference in UV. The whole flower looks yellow to us, however the petals reflect UV strongly and absorb blue (so look purple in this image), while the pollen in the centre doesn’t reflect UV, so looks red. This makes the flower look much more colourful to bees than ourselves.

Lesser Celandine in human vision (left) and honeybee vision (right). The whole flower looks yellow to us, however the petals reflect UV strongly, while the pollen in the centre doesn’t. This makes the flower look much more colourful to bees.

Flowers often look particularly striking in UV because they are signalling to attract pollinators that can see in UV, such as bees. UV is also often important for birds, reptiles and insects in their colourful sexual displays to attract mates.

Using a camera converted to full spectrum sensitivity, one photograph taken through a visible-pass filter can be combined by the software with a second taken through an ultraviolet-pass filter. The software can then generate functions to show the image through an animal’s eyes.

The researchers have provided specific data on camera settings for commonly studied animals, such as humans, blue tits, peafowl, honey bees, ferrets and some fish.

The software is free to download and is available here.

All images ©Jolyon Troscianko

Media Contacts

University of Exeter Press Office
Emailpressoffice@exeter.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)1392 722 062 / +44(0)7827 309 332
Twitter@UoE_ScienceNews

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4 thoughts on “Animal-eye view of the world revealed with new visual software

  1. Pingback: Animal-eye view of the world revealed with new visual software | methods.blog | papers2read

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