Abstract

Being the largest land mammals, elephants have very few natural enemies and are active during both day and night. Compared with those of diurnal and nocturnal animals, the eyes of elephants and other arrhythmic species, such as many ungulates and large carnivores, must function in both the bright light of day and dim light of night. Despite their fundamental importance, the roles of photosensitive molecules, visual pigments, in arrhythmic vision are not well understood. Here we report that elephants (Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus) use RH1, SWS1, and LWS pigments, which are maximally sensitive to 496, 419, and 552 nm, respectively. These light sensitivities are virtually identical to those of certain “color-blind” people who lack MWS pigments, which are maximally sensitive to 530 nm. During the day, therefore, elephants seem to have the dichromatic color vision of deuteranopes. During the night, however, they are likely to use RH1 and SWS1 pigments and detect light at 420–490 nm.

Footnotes

  • Sequence data from this article have been deposited with the EMBL/GenBank Data Libraries under accession nos. AY686752, AY686753, AY686754.

  • Communicating editor: N. Takahata

  • Received December 9, 2004.
  • Accepted February 8, 2005.
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