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Animal View and New Visual Software: How Flowers Look to Pollinators, and Other Useful Views

Aug 11, 2015 04:54 PM EDT
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A new visual software allows us to view the world as certain animals do. The flower on the right is the view of a honeybee, for instance.
Scientists and others using new open-access visual software developed by the University of Exeter can view flowers as they are seen by pollinators--showing different colors that attract them, rather than us--and see other animal-eye views that help further research and learning.
(Photo : Jolyon Troscianko)

Admit it, we've all wanted to view the world as an animal at some point. Wouldn't it be nice to see grass at head level, look into the eyes of other animals, or fly off a cliff? Well, researchers are just getting started--with colors--but in the wide world beyond GoPros attached to eagles and wandering house-cats, University of Exeter (UOE) researchers reported recently in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution on their new open-access visual software that starts us along that path.

UOE's software converts digital photos to animal vision, including that of honeybees and blue tit birds. This change can be used to analyze colors and patterns and is useful for studying animal and plant signalling, animal predation and camouflage, or to measure colors. Scientists can learn, for instance, from looking at flowers in UV; the plants are signalling to attract pollinators, such as bees, that are able to see in UV, according to a release.

Already, the Sensory Ecology group at UOE has used the special vision to look at color change in green shore crabs, track women's face color changes through ovulation, and determine what types of camouflage protects nightjar clutches from being noticed by predators, the release said. 

"Digital cameras are powerful tools for measuring colors and patterns in nature but until now it has been surprisingly difficult to use digital photos to make accurate and reliable measurements of color. 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," said Dr. Jolyon Troscianko, at UOE, said in the release.

The software shows the four or more primary colors in which birds, reptiles, amphibians and many insects can see, for instance--beyond the three that humans and most apes see: red, green and blue; and the two that many mammals see: blue and yellow. The other animals can see into the ultraviolet range, which are invisible to humans without using full-spectrum cameras, the release noted.

The new software works partly in this way: Starting with a photo taken through a visible-pass filter, it combines that with another image taken through an ultraviolet-pass filter--then renders an image as it would be seen by an animal. Other animal views available include those of peafowl, ferrets and some fish, said the release.

The software is downloadable here.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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