Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 172, Issue 3, pp 295–301

Colour vision in the passeriform bird, Leiothrix lutea: correlation of visual pigment absorbance and oil droplet transmission with spectral sensitivity

  • E. J. Maier
  • J. K. Bowmaker

DOI: 10.1007/BF00216611

Cite this article as:
Maier, E.J. & Bowmaker, J.K. J Comp Physiol A (1993) 172: 295. doi:10.1007/BF00216611


The visual receptors in the retina of the passeriform bird Leiothrix lutea were examined microspectro-photometrically. The rods had a maximum absorbance close to 500 nm. Four spectrally different classes of single cone were identified with typical combinations of photopigments and oil droplets: a long-wave sensitive cone with a photopigment P568 and a droplet with a cut-off wavelength at 564 nm, a middle-wave sensitive cone with a P499 and a droplet with a cut-off at 506 nm, a short-wave sensitive cone with a P454 and a droplet with maximum absorbance below 410nm and an ultraviolet sensitive cone with a P355 and a transparent droplet. Double cones possessed a P568 in both the principal and accessory members. A pale droplet with variable absorbance (maximal at about 420 nm) was associated with the principal member whereas the ellipsoid region of the accessory member contained only low concentrations of carotenoid. The effective spectral sensitivities of the different cone classes were calculated from the characteristic combinations of oil droplets and photopigments and corrected for the absorbance of the ocular media. Comparison of these results with the behavioural spectral sensitivity function of Leiothrix lutea suggests that the increment threshold photopic spectral sensitivity of this avian species is mediated by the 4 single cone classes modified by neural opponent mechanisms.

Key words

Leiothrix luteaPhotopigmentsOil dropletsSpectral sensitivityUV-cone



long wave sensitive


middle wave sensitive


short wave sensitive (cones)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. J. Maier
    • 1
  • J. K. Bowmaker
    • 2
  1. 1.Universität Regensburg, Institut für ZoologieRegensburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Visual Science, Institute of OphthalmologyUniversity of LondonLondonUK