Triggerfish are pretty good at differentiating colors

Written by on February 6, 2017 in Fish, Marine Life

Mantis shrimp aren’t the only creatures with extreme color vision! Researchers from the University of Queensland recently determined that reef fish can see colors that humans can’t.

Triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS.

Triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS.

“Coral reefs are the most colorful environments in the world, and it’s now become clear that reef fish see colors we can’t,” Professor Justin Marshall of the Queensland Brain Institute said in a news release.

While previous studies have examined the colors goldfish see, this is the first to examine reef fish. Researchers studied triggerfish by subjecting them to a series of behavioral tests where they were rewarded for discriminating against similar colors. They found that the fish were able to see some colors better than humans.

“Some reef fish, such as the anemonefish ‘Nemo’ and other damselfish can see the UV wavelengths we protect ourselves from,” Marshall said. “Triggerfish, on the other hand, see more or less the same colour range we do but their colour discriminations are different. Thinking about it, this is no big surprise. Their colour tasks are blue-biased, as they live in a blue ocean. Ironically, as the colours of the reef change and disappear because of climate change, we are just beginning to understand how reef inhabitants see and experience their vibrant world.”

In addition to providing more information about the intricacies of coral reefs, studies like this one can also lend insights to other disciplines. Comparative color vision research can be used for studies ranging from data storage to cancer detection.

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Copyright © 2017 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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