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In Living Colour

Credit: Roy Caldwell

Two mantis shrimp wrestling. These animals have the most comprehensive set of colour receptors known to humans. Credit: Roy Caldwell

By Noor Gillani

Colour perception is more advanced in goldfish than humans, yet researchers have tended to focus on vision in animals similar to us. Justin Marshall says this is “fundamentally stupid” and is setting his sights on a marine creature with 12 different colour receptors.

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Humans may have come a long way in their use of colour since the days of finger-painting, but we will never see it the same way creatures of the deep do. Prof Justin Marshall of the Queensland Brain Institute says that most animals live in a world more colourful than the human one. “We think that we’re quite good with colours,” he says. “Some humans will tell you we’ve got the best colour vision in the world.

“We don’t,” he adds. “Most of the other animals out there have better colour vision than we do. Even things like goldfish.”

Marshall’s specific focus is on the mantis shrimp, which possesses 12 colour receptors in the retina. This compares with just three in humans: red, blue and green. Hence Marshall says that mantis shrimp have “ the world’s best colour vision system. They’re four times better [than humans] – and they’re a shrimp.”

Yet Marshall says that there has not been sufficient research on the role that colour perception plays in the lives of animals. “I’d say we know 1%.”

Marshall says that scientists often neglect in-depth research on animals that seem dissimilar to humans. “There’s a great deal that still needs to be learnt about colour vision in other animals. In particular, other animals other than primates. We tend to be a bit fixated on things that are close to us because we want something that’s going to do us good. This is...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.