How do scientists discover that different animals have different senses than humans?


For example, how did scientists discover that bees can see in ultraviolet or octopus can see polarized light? And elephants can hear infra-sounds?

In: Biology

I’ve worked on mice, who can hear frequencies higher than our hearing range. I could record the brain activity when I played a tone to them. There were tones that I would not be able to hear, but their brain could reliably pick it up.

I think the examples you gave are largely observational (I don’t think anyone is cutting open an elephant brain and playing different noises to them). I would imagine elephants were recorded and when analyzing what the microphones picked up, they found sounds at very low frequencies that the elephants were clearly responding to. Bees if I remember correctly use the sun’s location to communicate where food is. I believe they may have attempted to recreate this using various light sources to determine which ones the bees where actually tracking as the signal.

Shine an ultraviolet light on food. Do that enough, and it’ll become a trained condition, and you can observe that reaction.

Besides behavioural analysis, they can also examine the sense organs themselves to gain insight to what they’re capable of.

The light receptors in our eyes can only react to light within a range of wavelengths. The chemistry of the eyes limits what the receptors can react to. Bee eye receptors have different chemistry and understanding that can show how they can see differently.