Color vision and innate color preferences

Both phylogenetic history and selection have influenced the development and elaboration of sensory systems in insects. Chittka (1996) has suggested that a set of UV, blue, and green photoreceptors is ancestral to Insecta, and that some lineages have since lost or added receptors, presumably as a result of selection.

Investigations into the visual capabilities of beetles have been few (Hasselmann 1962; Lall et al. 1982; Agee et al. 1990; Lin & Wu 1992). Lampyrids (fireflies) have UV, blue, and green receptors (Lall et al. 1982), and spectral sensitivity curves obtained from ERG recordings revealed UV and green receptors in three other beetle families (Lin & Wu 1992). An earlier electroretinogram (ERG) study also found red reception in a carabid beetle (Hasselmann 1962). Behavioral studies have also suggested that beetles have the ability to recognize and distinguish colors (Dafni et al. 1990).

Calliphorid, drosophilid, and muscid flies have been shown to perceive colors (Hernández de Salomon & Spatz 1983; Fukushi 1989; Pickens 1990; Troje 1993). Foraging syrphids, calliphorids, tephritids, and anthomyiids innately prefer the color yellow (Lunau 1988; Fukushi 1989; Lunau & Maier 1995; Sutherland et al. 1999), while bombyliids often visit pink, blue, or violet flowers (Proctor et al. 1996; Johnson & Dafni 1998).

The spectral range of lepidopterans varies across taxa, but in some species is among the widest reported for any animal, covering wavelengths from 300 to 700 nm (UV to red) (Silberglied 1984; Lunau & Maier 1995). Reported numbers of visual pigment types vary from three in various moth and butterfly taxa (e.g., Shimohigashi & Tominaga 1991) to five or six in swallowtail butterflies (Arikawa et al. 1987; Briscoe & Chittka 2001). Innate color preferences in the context of foraging (often for yellow, blue, and sometimes orange-red) have been found in a broad taxonomic range of lepidopterans, including nymphalids, papilionids, satyrids, pierids, and sphingids (Crane 1955; Ilse & Vaidya 1956; Swihart & Swihart 1970; Silberglied 1984; Traynier 1986; Scherer & Kolb 1987a, b; Arikawa et al. 1987; Goulson & Cory 1993; Weiss 1995, 1997; Kelber & Pfafff 1997; Kinoshita et al. 1999). Reported color preferences may differ between genera in a family, between species in a genus, or between sexes of species (Ilse 1928; Ilse & Vaidya 1956; Weiss 1997; Kinoshita et al. 1999).

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