Indexed on: 07 Jun '14Published on: 07 Jun '14Published in: The Journal of experimental biology
Ultraviolet (UV) vision and UV colour patches have been reported in a wide range of taxa and are increasingly appreciated as an integral part of vertebrate visual perception and communication systems. Previous studies with Lacertidae, a lizard family with diverse and complex coloration, have revealed the existence of UV-reflecting patches that may function as social signals. However, confirmation of the signalling role of UV coloration requires demonstrating that the lizards are capable of vision in the UV waveband. Here we use a multidisciplinary approach to characterize the visual sensitivity of a diverse sample of lacertid species. Spectral transmission measurements of the ocular media show that wavelengths down to 300 nm are transmitted in all the species sampled. Four retinal oil droplet types can be identified in the lacertid retina. Two types are pigmented and two are colourless. Fluorescence microscopy reveals that a type of colourless droplet is UV-transmitting and may thus be associated with UV-sensitive cones. DNA sequencing shows that lacertids have a functional SWS1 opsin, very similar at 13 critical sites to that in the presumed ancestral vertebrate (which was UV sensitive) and other UV-sensitive lizards. Finally, males of Podarcis muralis are capable of discriminating between two views of the same stimulus that differ only in the presence/absence of UV radiance. Taken together, these results provide convergent evidence of UV vision in lacertids, very likely by means of an independent photopigment. Moreover, the presence of four oil droplet types suggests that lacertids have a four-cone colour vision system.