Software lets you see the world like animals do

flowers in uv 2
Screen capture Dr. Jolyon Troscianko

In the animal world, color can be very important. It can signal to potential mates or it can provide camouflage to protect from predators or it can even help to identify food sources. But the world and the colors of things look different from species to species.

Humans and old-world primates are sensitive to primary colors of blue, green and red, while other mammals are only sensitive to blue and yellow. Meanwhile birds, reptiles, amphibians and many insects see in four or more primary colors and can see in the ultra-violet range, which is invisible to humans unless we use full spectrum cameras.

Scientists at the University of Exeter have developed a free software called the Multispectral Image Calibration and Analysis Toolbox that allows humans to look at things the way other animals do by processing photos to shift the colors as a specific species would see them.

In the photos below and at the top of the story, the left side is how humans see while the right side is how a honeybee would see. The university explains that flowers are often especially striking in UV because they are signaling to pollinators that see in UV, like bees.

flowers in uv like honeybeeDr. Jolyon Troscianko/Screen capture

Lead researcher Dr. Jolyon Troscianko from the university's Center for Ecology and Conservation said, “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."

Users can choose a species from a drop-down list in the software and then they're given instructions on how to calibrate their camera settings for taking photographs. Once a photo is taken, it is uploaded to the user's computer and the software calibrates it, separates the colors into layers, applies a UV filter if necessary and then produces a photo that looks like that specific species would see it.

To us, being able to see with animal vision is a pretty fun novelty, but the researchers have been using the software to study things like how camouflage protects birds from predators, the color changes of green shore crabs and changes to female face color through the ovulation cycle.

The software has also shown how color displays in UV help to signal to potential mates, like in the photo of the lizard below. The left is how we see and the right is how the lizard sees.

You can download the software for free and watch a tutorial here.

Software lets you see the world like animals do
You can see what objects look like to fish, bees, birds and more.

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