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Differences in photoreceptor processing speed for chromatic and achromatic vision in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris.

11 November 2010


Fast detection of visual change can be mediated by visual processes that ignore chromatic aspects of the visual signal, relying on inputs from a single photoreceptor class (or pooled input from similar classes). There is an established link between photoreceptor processing speed (in achromatic vision) and visual ecology. Highly maneuverable flies, for example, have the fastest know photoreceptors, relying on metabolically expensive membrane conductances to boost performance. Less active species forgo this investment and their photoreceptors are correspondingly slower.

However, within a species, additional classes of photoreceptors are required to extract chromatic information, and the question therefore arises as to whether there might be within-species differences in processing speed between photoreceptors involved in chromatic processing compared with those feeding into fast achromatic visual systems. We used intracellular recording to compare light-adapted impulse responses in three spectral classes of photoreceptor in the bumblebee.

Green-sensitive photoreceptors, which are known to provide achromatic contrast for motion detection, generated the fastest impulse responses (half-width, Δt = 7.9 ± 1.1 ms). Blue- and UV-sensitive photoreceptors (which are involved in color vision) were significantly slower (9.8 ± 1.2 and 12.3 ± 1.8 ms, respectively). The faster responses of green photoreceptors are in keeping with their role in fast achromatic vision.

However, blue and UV photoreceptors are still relatively fast in comparison with many other insect species, as well as vertebrate cones, suggesting a significant investment in photoreceptor processing for color vision in bees. We discuss this finding in relation to bees' requirement for accurate learning of flower color, especially in conditions of variable luminance contrast.


Skorupski, P. and Chittka, L., 2010. Differences in photoreceptor processing speed for chromatic and achromatic vision in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(11), pp.3896-3903.

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Categories: Photonics & Optoelectronics

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