We humans see the world in color because of color receptors we have in our eyes. We have three types of photoreceptors (cones): blue, green, and red, which allow us to see close to a hundred different colors, pretty much degrees and nuances of the colors of the rainbow. Dogs only have two cones, blue and green, so are very limited in their color vision, much like color-blind men (10% of all men). (Rods in our eyes allow us to see light and dark.)
The sparrow actually has more cones than we do which allows it to see a range of ultraviolet colors. Butterflies have 5 to 6 cones so its color range is even vaster. But the animal who has the most complex visual system on the planet is the mantis shrimp with 16 cones! (Its eyes are pictured above.) This includes seeing eleven or twelve primary colors (as opposed to the three that humans see) seeing from the infrared into the ultraviolet. I want to see like a mantis shrimp.
Twelve primary colors! I can’t even imagine, conceptualize, envision, conceive, or conjure up what those color possibilities might be. However, here’s the catch—the mantis shrimp’s brain is so small, it would have no notion of the beauty of the colors it sees. For the mantis shrimp, this complicated and sophisticated color differentiation is only for the practical purposes of mating and hunting. All the potential visual beauty of the perception of all these unimaginable colors is totally lost on the mantis shrimp.
Maybe too many of us already observe like a mantis shrimp. How many gifts exist in my life for which my brain is “too small” to see. Before I go wanting to observe through a mantis shrimp’s eyes, should I not make sure my eyes have been opened to all the beauty that is already within my grasp?
Still…… twelve primary colors?!!
(This post was inspired by WYNC’s podcast on Colors – Radiolab which we listened to on the way home from visiting with our amazing grandkids and their awesome parents, accompanied by a stunning rainbow to our east.)