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January 2024

Plants, animals, and fungi display a rich tapestry of colors. Animals, in particular, use colors in dynamic displays performed in spatially complex environments. Although current approaches for studying colors are objective and repeatable, they miss the temporal variation of color signals entirely. Vasas et al. introduce hardware and software that provide ecologists and filmmakers the ability to accurately record animal-perceived colors in motion. Specifically, their Python codes transform photos or videos into perceivable units (quantum catches) for animals of known photoreceptor sensitivity. The camera system and the associated software package will allow ecologists to investigate how animals use colors in dynamic behavioral displays, the ways natural illumination alters perceived colors, and other questions that remained unaddressed until now due to a lack of suitable tools. Finally, it provides scientists and filmmakers with a new, empirically grounded approach for depicting the perceptual worlds of nonhuman animals. The image shows an orange-barred sulphur (Phoebis philea) as seen by a bird; the striking colors are ‘false colors,’ as this species appears yellow to human eyes. In this case, the software outputted photoreceptor catch for each of a bird’s four separate photoreceptors and then subsequently transformed a video of this butterfly into a visualizable color scheme. The phantom images behind the main one are stylized to represent motion captured by this system.

Image Credit: Daniel Hanley

Editorial

Supporting open science at PLOS Biology

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Essays

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Perspective

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Community Page

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Methods and Resources

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