Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 277–286 | Cite as

Generalised Chromaticity Diagrams for Animals with n-chromatic Colour Vision

  • Thomas W. PikeEmail author


Chromaticity diagrams for tri- and tetrachromatic animals (with three and four cone classes in their retina, respectively, contributing to colour perception) are widely used in studies of animal colour vision. These diagrams not only allow the graphical representation of perceived colours, but the coordinates of colours plotted within these diagrams can be used to extract colour metrics, such as hue and chroma, or can be used directly in statistical analyses, and therefore aid our understanding of vision-mediated behaviour. However, many invertebrate species have more than four cone classes in their retina, and may therefore have pentachromatic or hexachromatic (or greater) vision. This paper describes an extension to the triangular and tetrahedral chromaticity diagrams commonly used for tri- and tetrachromats, respectively, that allows colour coordinates (and hence colour metrics) to be calculated for animals with more than four cone classes. Because the resulting chromaticity diagrams have more than three dimensions, meaningful ways to visualise the spatial position of plotted colours are discussed.


Chromaticity diagram visual ecology pentachromat hexachromat 



This work was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council fellowship (NE/F016514/1).


  1. Arnold K, Neumeyer C (1987) Wavelength discrimination in the turtle Pseudemys scripta elegans. Vis Res 27:1501–1511PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Avarguès-Weber A, de Brito Sanchez MG, Giurfa M, Dyer AG (2010) Aversive reinforcement improves visual discrimination learning in free flying honeybees. PLOS One e15370Google Scholar
  3. Bennett ATD, Cuthill IC, Partridge JC, Maier EJ (1996) Ultraviolet vision and mate choice in zebra finches. Nature 380:433–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chittka L (1992) The colour hexagon: a chromaticity diagram based on photoreceptor excitations as a generalized representation of colour opponency. J Comp Physiol A 170:533–543Google Scholar
  5. Cole GR, Hine T, McIlhagga W (1993) Detection mechanisms in L-, M-, and S-cone contrast space. J Opt Soc Am A 10:138–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Coxeter HSM (1973) Regular Polytopes. Dover Publications, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Dyer AG, Chittka L (2004) Fine colour discrimination requires differential conditioning in bumblebees. Naturwissenschaften 91:224–227PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Endler JA, Mielke PW (2005) Comparing entire colour patterns as birds see them. Biol J Linn Soc 86:405–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Giurfa M (2004) Conditioning procedure and color discrimination in the honeybee Apis mellifera. Naturwissenschaften 91:228–231PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Goldsmith TH (1991) The evolution of visual pigments and colour vision. In: Gouras P (ed) The Perception of Colour. Macmillan, London, pp 62–89Google Scholar
  11. Hurlbert AC (1998) Computational models of constancy. In Walsh V, Kulikowski J (eds) Perception Constancy: why things look as they do. Cambridge University Press, pp 283–322Google Scholar
  12. Jacobs GH (1993) The distribution and nature of colour vision among the mammals. Biol Rev 68:413–471PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kelber A, Vorobyev M, Osorio D (2003) Animal colour vision: behavioural tests and physiological concepts. Biol Rev 78:81–118PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. von Kries J (1905) Die Gesichtsempfindungen. In: Nagel W (ed) Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen, vol. 3. Vieweg, Braunschweig, pp 109–282Google Scholar
  15. Maxwell JC (1860) On the theory of compound colours, and the relations of the colours of the spectrum. Phil Trans R Soc Lond 150:57–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Morehouse NI, Rutowski RL (2010) In the eyes of the beholders: female choice and avian predation risk associated with an exaggerated male butterfly color. Am Nat 176:768–784PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Neumeyer C (1992) Tetrachromatic colour vision in goldfish: evidence from color mixture experiments. J Comp Physiol A 171:639–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Osorio D, Vorobyev M, Jones CD (1999) Colour vision of domestic chicks. J Exp Biol 202:2951–2959PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Palacios A, Martinoya C, Bloch S, Varela FJ (1990) Color mixing in the pigeon—a psychophysical determination in the longwave spectral range. Vis Res 30:587–596PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Qiu XD, Arikawa K (2003) The photoreceptor localization conforms the spectral heterogeneity of ommatidia in the male small white butterfly, Pieris rapae crucivora. J Comp Physiol A 189:81–88Google Scholar
  21. Stavenga DG, Arikawa K (2006) Evolution of color and vision of butterflies. Arth Struct Dev 35:307–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Vorobyev M, Osorio D (1998) Receptor noise as a determinant of colour thresholds. Proc R Soc Lond B 265:351–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wakakuwa M, Stavenga DG, Kurasawa M, Arikawa K (2004) A unique visual pigment expressed in green, red and deep-red receptors in the eye of the small white butterfly, Pieris rapae crucivora. J Exp Biol 207:2803–2810PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wyszecki G, Stiles WS (1982) Color Science: concepts and methods, quantitative data and formulae. John Wiley and Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK

Personalised recommendations