Have you ever wondered….why water sometimes appears blue and sometimes green? Why lobsters change colour when you cook them? Why the colours of a soap bubble shift and change colour with the breeze? Why the sky is blue, why the grass green and why the robin has a red breast?
It is often thought that the brightest colours can only come from artificial chemicals or ingredients. But the truly brightest of all colours can be seen in nature. In the animals, the land and the sky.
The first example of great colours in nature are animals. They have evolved with pigments to improve their chances of survival and reproduction. One of the most popular of these is camouflage. Animals who use this conceal themselves from predators or prey by blending themselves into the background.
Chameleons are well known for their ability to change colours. They do this by distributing dark pigments along their cells. If they concentrate the pigment into the centre of the cell, other colours can show through. Or they can spread the pigment out, covering a wide area of the skin, causing it to darken.
The colour is decided on what the animal sees around it. It can be used as camouflage, used to defend territory, ‘court a mate’, or frighten away a predator.
Tigers also use their colour markings as a camouflage. Although the reason is not quite so obvious.
Most people believe the stripes of a tiger are there so it can hide in the grass. This is an bonus, but the main reason for the stripes is so the outline of the tiger is not fully visible. The stripes separate the tiger, making it hard for predator or prey to get a clear vision of where the animal is.
If the tiger were all black or all orange instead of its bold stripes then it would be visible from a long distance and against almost any background. Although camouflage is not the only reason for colouration in animals. Animals also use brighter colours that stand out from the background to call attention to themselves.
Whether this is a warning to predators and enemies or a calling to mates. This can be used to the animals advantage though. An animal or insect may take on the appearance of another animal in order to gain the benefits that the other animal has. For example: The robber fly.
This fly has the colourations and marking of a bee or a wasp. Most animals know, or soon find out, that if the eat a wasp or a bee they will get stung. So when they see the robber fly the mistake it for a bee or wasp and avoid it. With this the harmless, stingless robber fly can avoid being eaten or wounded in another way.
Another example of insects who look like another in order to survive is the Viceroy butterfly. This butterfly looks much like the Monarch butterfly. With its bright markings of orange and black. The monarch butterfly eats a weed by the name of milkweed when it is a caterpillar.
This produces a chemical which can be toxic. When the caterpillar becomes a butterfly it retains this toxin. If the butterfly is eaten then the animal becomes ill from the toxin. Soon the animal learns not to eat the monarch butterfly. The Viceroy butterfly does not contain this toxin.
However it looks so much like the Monarch that animals who have had bad experiences with the Monarch do not attempt to eat the Viceroy. Most animals get their colourings from pigments. Pigments are born into the animal or person. There are many types, each producing a different type of colour, for a different animal.
Although some get it from surfaces on skin or wings. Like the butterfly. The Morpho butterflies have tightly packed scales in the pattern of tiles on a roof. The actual colour of the butterfly’s wing is a dull brown, but the pattern of these scales create a glowing blue colour that has been said to be seen from miles away.
Not all colourations in the animal kingdom are for a purpose. There is always a reason, but not every colour in the world has a purpose. The colouring of the mother-of-pearl is caused by many layers of calcium carbonate