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October 25, 2001

Receptive to color

Q: During a recent trip to the Bahamas, my husband talked me into going fishing with him one day on the reefs. It was a blast. This lovely little grouper was just one of many interesting species we caught, and I noticed how many were brilliantly colored. That led me to pose a question that no one - not my hubby, the skipper, nor anyone on board - could definitively answer: Do reef fish see color? - Bambi Fleggum, Hartford, ConnecticutA: Most definitely, Bambi, fishes see colors.

Q: During a recent trip to the Bahamas, my husband talked me into going fishing with him one day on the reefs. It was a blast. This lovely little grouper was just one of many interesting species we caught, and I noticed how many were brilliantly colored. That led me to pose a question that no one - not my hubby, the skipper, nor anyone on board - could definitively answer: Do reef fish see color? - Bambi Fleggum, Hartford, Connecticut

A: Most definitely, Bambi, fishes see colors. We know this because their eyes have the appropriate color receptors, similar to the cones in human eyes, which enable this. What's not known exactly is the spectrum of light fishes can detect. Some recent work has indicated that, for example, some freshwater fishes can detect ultraviolet light. And yet we also know that some fishes are color-blind since they lack color detectors in the retina.