Three spectrally distinct photoreceptors in diurnal and nocturnal Australian ants

Yuri Ogawa, Marcin Falkowski, Ajay Narendra, Jochen Zeil, Jan M. Hemmi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Ants are thought to be special among Hymenopterans in having only dichromatic colour vision based on two spectrally distinct photoreceptors. Many ants are highly visual animals, however, and use vision extensively for navigation. We show here that two congeneric day- and night-active Australian ants have three spectrally distinct photoreceptor types, potentially supporting trichromatic colour vision. Electroretinogram recordings show the presence of three spectral sensitivities with peaks (λmax) at 370, 450 and 550 nm in the night-active Myrmecia vindex and peaks at 370, 470 and 510 nm in the day-active Myrmecia croslandi. Intracellular electrophysiology on individual photoreceptors confirmed that the night-active M. vindex has three spectral sensitivities with peaks (λmax) at 370, 430 and 550 nm. A large number of the intracellular recordings in the night-active M. vindex show unusually broad-band spectral sensitivities, suggesting that photoreceptors may be coupled. Spectral measurements at different temporal frequencies revealed that the ultraviolet receptors are comparatively slow.We discuss the adaptive significance and the probability of trichromacy in Myrmecia ants in the context of dim light vision and visual navigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150673
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1808
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ants
  • Colour vision
  • Navigation
  • Photoreceptors
  • Spectral sensitivity


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