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Ultraviolet vision in a bat


Most mammals, with the exception of primates, have dichromatic vision and correspondingly limited colour perception1. Ultraviolet vision was discovered in mammals only a decade ago2, and in the few rodents and marsupials where it has been found, ultraviolet light is detected by an independent photoreceptor2,3. Bats orient primarily by echolocation, but they also use vision. Here we show that a phyllostomid flower bat, Glossophaga soricina, is colour-blind but sensitive to ultraviolet light down to a wavelength of 310 nm. Behavioural experiments revealed a spectral-sensitivity function with maxima at 510 nm (green) and above 365 nm (ultraviolet). A test for colour vision was negative. Chromatic adaptation had the same threshold-elevating effects on ultraviolet and visible test lights, indicating that the same photoreceptor is responsible for both response peaks (ultraviolet and green). Thus, excitation of the β-band of the visual pigment is the most likely cause of ultraviolet sensitivity. This is a mechanism for ultraviolet vision that has not previously been demonstrated in intact mammalian visual systems.

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Figure 1: Spectral sensitivity function of the bat Glossophaga soricina (experiment I).
Figure 2: Test for colour vision (experiment II).
Figure 3: Displacement of sensitivity thresholds under chromatic adaptation (experiment III).


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We thank C. Peppermüller and H. Sadowski for stimulus calibrations, and G. Seitz for general support. This work was supported by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation to Y.W. J.E.L. was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

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Correspondence to York Winter.

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Winter, Y., López, J. & von Helversen, O. Ultraviolet vision in a bat. Nature 425, 612–614 (2003).

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