Student Research - Owens
Major in Biology

The red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereusInfrared image of salamander during ultraviolet vision experiment

Owens, T.M. and Buchanan, B.W. 2004.

Ultraviolet Visual Capabilities of the Red-backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus.

Ultraviolet vision is used in mate choice, foraging, and social behavior in many vertebrates. Electroretinographic studies have suggested that salamanders may be able to detect ultraviolet light but it is unknown whether or not amphibians use ultraviolet light in vision. We performed a laboratory experiment to determine whether or not individuals of Plethodon cinereus can use ultraviolet light in visually-mediated prey detection. In a repeated-measures design, we observed individual salamander?s visual responses to moving artificial prey items presented under three lighting treatments: total darkness (dark control), ultraviolet light only (UV), and white light (white, at the same irradiance as the UV treatment). We compared time to orient toward prey for salamanders in each treatment. Salamanders responded to prey significantly sooner in the UV and white light treatments than in the total darkness control treatment demonstrating that salamanders can see prey using either UV or white light. Salamanders responded more quickly to prey in the white light treatment than in the UV treatment suggesting that the salamanders may be less sensitive to UV light than to broad-spectrum white light. Our data represent the first demonstration of UV vision in a caudate amphibian; the ecological significance of this finding remains unknown.

Bryant W. Buchanan, 792-3131,
*Research Advisor


Dr. Daniel Kurtz
Chair of Biology

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