For many years, it was believed that bird and mammal communication ‘in the dark of the night’ relied exclusively on vocal and chemical signalling. However, in recent decades, several case studies have conveyed the idea that the nocturnal world is rich in visual information. Clearly, a visual signal needs a source of light to work, but diurnal light (twilight included, i.e. any light directly dependent on the sun) is not the only source of luminosity on this planet. Actually, moonlight represents a powerful source of illumination that cannot be neglected from the perspective of visual communication. White patches of feathers and fur on a dark background have the potential to be used to communicate with conspecifics and heterospecifics in dim light across different contexts and for a variety of reasons. Here: (i) we review current knowledge on visual signalling in crepuscular and nocturnal birds and mammals; and (ii) we also present some possible cases of birds and mammals that, due to the characteristics of their feather and fur coloration pattern, might use visual signals in dim light. Visual signalling in nocturnal animals is still an emerging field and, to date, it has received less attention than many other means of communication, including visual communication under daylight. For this reason, many questions remain unanswered and, sometimes, even unasked.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Vision in dim light’.
One contribution of 17 to a theme issue ‘Vision in dim light’.
- Accepted September 19, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.