As humans, we live in a mostly visual domain and we get around in the diurnal world thanks to our sense of sight. Our perception of colors enables us to find our food, to judge distances and depth, and to distinguish specific objects in order to analyze them. Our senses of hearing, smell, touch and taste are important, but what about other species?
A world of smells
The sense of smell takes precedence with a number of mammals. A dog, for example, lives in a world of scents. His vision is very different from ours: he sees relatively few colors, and can’t clearly distinguish objects, but he smells a million times better than we can. A walk will produce distinct experiences: while we may admire the view, he takes an interest in other dogs, who may have come and gone long before, in the squirrel that’s come down from the tree in such and such a spot, or in the neighbor’s cat who’s crossed his territory. He homes in easily on table scraps in garbage cans. With his acute hearing he detects his fellow creatures before we do, as well as possible prey scampering under the leaves. For the sake of his mental health, he must be allowed to explore.
On the feline side
A cat possesses acute hearing and smell, but doesn’t taste a whole lot. It swallows its grub quickly, its nose already having gathered information about the nature of the food. Its excellent nighttime vision comes from the high number of rods in its eyes, but it sees nothing in total darkness.
Four-color vision for the birds
Analysis of a bird’s brain reveals optic lobes indicative of a very highly developed sense of vision. Most have excellent eyesight and perceive more colors. Our vision is three-color, which makes the colors green, blue and red visible to us, while that of many birds is four-color, the fourth being ultraviolet. The sense of smell in birds is generally not strongly developed, except in vultures, who can detect the remains of dead animals from very far off.
The serpent’s tongue
Snakes and a number of lizards can capture infrared, useful for animals that prey on mammals in locating their prey. Their tongue is in no way used for stinging, but rather for collecting information in the form of odors, which are drawn into the mouth through a back-and-forth motion. Analysis happens at the level of the palate through use of the Jacobson’s organ. Their tongue is forked, since each branch makes it possible to locate the object with precision, to the left or the right.
Insects and ultraviolet
A great many insects, including bees, perceive ultraviolet. Quite a few flowers have a color scheme, invisible to us, that leads foragers straight to the center, where the nectar, and especially the pollen, is found, vital to the reproduction of the mother plant.
The long-armed octopus
The sense of touch is very highly developed in the octopus, which with its long arms explores the narrowest crevices, looking for shelter or a crab to devour.
To each his perceptions
There are so many examples, and so many differences from one species to another. What’s important to remember when you deal with an animal: think about how it perceives the world, sometimes very differently from how we do, and bear it in mind in fostering its development and its wellbeing.