Among all the creatures in the animal kingdom, humans are the most well-adapted to life on Earth. We have thrived as we have evolved, and we can thank the amazing evolution of our eyes for helping us to witness the transformation.
Our eyes, though not necessarily the most sharp, discerning, or expansive (in comparison to some specialized animals), are excellent all-around performers that have allowed us to flourish. One of the advantages our eyes provide us is with our excellent perception of colour.
Perhaps the most famous example of this fact are our best friends, dogs. Where humans have three color-receptive cone cells in our eyes (that see red, green, and blue), dogs only have two.
Interestingly enough, dogs don’t see in grayscale. Their vision is best compared to someone that has deuteranopia (red/green colorblindness). Their colour-cells are receptive to tones of yellow and blue.
Recent studies have shown that animals that were once widely thought to see in grayscale (seeing in black and white), like your family dog and cat, can actually see in color. Their differentiation of color is distinctly different from what a humans see, as humans have more robust colour vision compared to most mammals.
Many different animals and insects can see well outside the range humans can, with many being able to see into the UV spectrum. The UV spectrum of light exists at wavelengths under 400m and is completely invisible to human eyes.
Seeing into the UV spectrum can have huge advantages. Bees, for example, look at the UV markings on flowers as giant homing beacons that guide them to the flowers pollen.
Humans, and other animals that have evolved exceptional color vision, have benefitted immensely from our colour perception. We can leverage our understanding of colour to make quick decisions, or to determine if something may be poisonous or dangerous.
We are able to infer the flavour and palatability of food and drink based on its colour (interested in a glass of toxic-green water?), and being able to clearly differentiate between similar shades of colour makes us better hunters, farmers, and craftsmen.
Approximately 10% of men and 1% of women are colorblind. Though the name suggests that these people see in grayscale, they are usually color deficient. Red/green colorblindness is the most common version.
People who are colorblind see as clearly as anyone else. However, their perception of colour is greatly diminished compared to someone who has color-normal vision.
2016 is enjoying a great summer, with El Nino providing plenty of wonky-weather for us to… “enjoy”. We’re spending the time outdoors, and we hope you are too.
If you haven’t already, try on a pair of polarized sunglasses. Sunglasses with polarized lenses reduce glare and improve contrast, making colours pop. Maui Jim’s also feature colour-enhancing lenses that increase colour saturation and fidelity, making outdoor scenes really something special.
Next time you’re out for a stroll and appreciating a nice flower bed, think about how special and unique our ability to perceive colour is- we sure are lucky!
Dr. Lampard graduated from optometry at Pacific University in Oregon in 1981. He and his wife Lorraine have three grown children, all born and raised in Red Deer. Tom enjoys cycling, curling, cross country and downhill skiing, and golfing. He also keeps busy volunteering for the United Way, has been a chairman of the Alberta College of Optometrists, and director of the Alberta Association of Optometrists.More Articles by Tom Lampard