One goal of contemporary paleontology is the restoration of extinct creatures with all the complexity of form, function, and interaction that characterize extant animals of our direct experience. Toward that end, much can be inferred about the visual capabilities of various extinct animals based on the anatomy and molecular biology of their closest living relatives. In particular, confident deductions about color vision in extinct animals can be made by analyzing a small number of genes in a variety of species. The evidence indicates that basal tetrapods had a color vision system that was in some ways more sophisticated than our own. Humans are in a poor position to understand the perceptual worlds of other terrestrial vertebrates because of the loss of anatomical specializations still retained by members of most all tetrapod lineages except eutherian mammals. Consequently, the largest barrier to understanding vision in extinct animals is not necessarily the nonpreservation of relevant structures, but rather our deep and largely unrecognized ignorance of visual function in modern animals.
M.P.Rowe. Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106, USA.
KEY WORDS: eyes, photopigments, dinosaurs, perception, color
Copyright: Society of Vertebrate
Paleontologists, 15 April 2000
Submission: 18 November 1999, Acceptance: 2 February 2000