Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 4, pp 541–555 | Cite as

Perceptual distance between colored stimuli in the lizard Anolis sagrei: comparing visual system models to empirical results

  • Leo J. FleishmanEmail author
  • Carley W. Perez
  • Anna I. Yeo
  • Kailee J. Cummings
  • Stephanie Dick
  • Elizabeth Almonte
Original Article


In the study of the evolution of animal colors, the conspicuousness of a pair of colors (e.g., stimulus vs. background) is often modeled by determining the distance between them in perceptual color space. For similar colors, receptor noise models have been demonstrated to be an effective way to estimate discrimination thresholds. However, the best way to quantify conspicuousness of color pairs that are distant in perceptual space is not widely agreed upon. In experiments where an animal is presented with different colors that it can easily discriminate, its response may be strongly influenced by the biological significance of a color, in addition to its conspicuousness, a phenomenon known as color categorization. This has made it difficult to test and confirm the validity of different models of perceptual distance. We tested the relative conspicuousness of different stimulus/background color combinations in the lizard Anolis sagrei using a visual attention reflex, which has been shown in earlier experiments to be less influenced by color categorization than other commonly used behavioral assays. We compared the results to predictions based on two different visual system-based models. The Euclidian distance between pairs of points plotted in a lizard chromaticity diagram effectively predicted the relative responses. A receptor noise model, in which color space distance was estimated in units of “just noticeable difference,” yielded a similarly accurate prediction of the results. We concluded that for studies of color signal evolution, either of these methods may be effectively employed to make behaviorally-relevant predictions of perceptual distance among colors that are widely separated in visual space.


Color vision Anolis lizard Receptor noise Perceptual distance 



Thanks to Roger Hoerl and Erin Leone for advice and assistance with the statistical analysis. Two anonymous reviewers suggested improvements to an earlier version of the manuscript. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation Grant 1051796 to LJF and by Union College summer research fellowships to CWP, AIY, SD, and EA.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of Union College and were approved in advance by the Union College IACUC committee.

Supplementary material

265_2016_2072_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (52 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 51 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leo J. Fleishman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carley W. Perez
    • 1
  • Anna I. Yeo
    • 1
  • Kailee J. Cummings
    • 1
  • Stephanie Dick
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Almonte
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUnion CollegeSchenectadyUSA

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