The software reveals unseen markings on the male lizard (right), vital for mate selection. (Jolyon Troscianko)

Ever wondered what the world looks like to nonhuman animals? Scientists do, too. It can actually be a really important question. Sometimes humans can't see things -- like skin markings designed to attract mates or flower colors meant to draw pollinators -- that are incredibly important in the life and behavior of an animal.

That's why researchers at the University of Exeter have developed a software that converts photos to "animal vision."

[This new program identifies birds with just a photo]

The software, which is available for free online, is described in a recent paper in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Its creators have already used it extensively themselves to perform studies on animals who see light outside the spectrum visible to humans. They've also used it to track imperceptible color changes that occur in women's faces during ovulation.

The software works by integrating photos taken using ultraviolet filters with those taken using regular color filters, a process that scientists used to have to dial in manually for whatever species they were studying. By meshing the visible light spectrum with information from a full-spectrum image, the software can replicate the visual experience of animals who see more colors than humans, including light in the ultraviolet range.

Dandelions as seen in human vision (left), and honeybee vision (right). The center of the flower absorbs UV while the ends of the petals reflects it. (Jolyon Troscianko)
Dandelions as seen in human vision (left), and honeybee vision (right). The center of the flower absorbs UV while the ends of the petals reflects it. (Jolyon Troscianko)

That's especially important when looking at flowers, since they often have signals to pollinators that can only be seen in the ultraviolet range.

[Evolution tuned this moth’s night vision to follow swaying flowers]

The researchers have included specific camera settings for commonly studied animals, such as honeybees and some species of fish. Now that the software is open access, they hope other labs can benefit from the technology.

And if you've got the right camera set-up, you can play around with it yourself and get a bee's-eye view of the world.

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