City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

September 21, 2016

September 18th

Butterfly Color Vision

5:30 p.m. At the sunflowers in the Pleasant Valley meadow, a lone cabbage white butterfly is working the blooms, but the cabbage white is no longer colored white. Its wings are tinted a pale light green. Is this from a change in diet? Reading about night vision, I discover that some butterflies have five types of rods and cones, and thus, they are called pentachromates. Humans are trichormates and can theoretically see 10 million different colors. Pentachromates theoretically can distinguish 10 billion colors. Given that it has the brain the size of a pin-head, what does this butterfly actually see? What would the canyon look like in 10 billions colors?  In contrast, modern computer screens can theoretically display 16 million colors, but usually only about 33,000 colors are used, because people do not ordinarily perceive the difference.

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