Why are there so many colors among animals?

It’s really impressive the amount of colors that animals can present. There are creatures with hair, feathers, scales and other types of covering in shades of blue, yellow, red, in vibrant and shiny colors, which would be difficult to achieve by artificially made paints .

But how does nature manage to produce these tones? Is there a reason why these animals are so incredibly colorful?

Why are there so many colors among animals?

Why are there so many colors among animals?

Several factors explain the diversity of colors among animals. There are, for example, chameleons, which have changeable skin and reproduce the colors of the rainbow . This occurs due to an impressive mechanism: these reptiles have a thin layer of guanine nanocrystals, which reflect light in various hues.

Color can also be a result of the evolutionary process of certain species. A 2022 research showed that land vertebrates that have bright colors can be divided into two groups.

Nocturnal animals exhibit a phenomenon called aposematism : they become colorful to communicate to predators that they are poisonous. Daytime animals are more likely to use flashy colors to attract their sexual partners.

The variation in tones can also serve to communicate different species within the same group. This would explain, for example, why there is such a large number of colors among insects . “One thing color is used for, more specifically color patterns, is to distinguish one species from another. Because if you’re male or female and you mate with the wrong species, that’s a missed opportunity,” explains Vinod Saranathan, biology professor at Krea University, in an interview with Live Science .

How do animals produce colors?

The wide variety of colors is created in two different ways: by pigments or by nanostructures present in the animals’ bodies. In the case of pigments, molecules absorb wavelengths of light to reproduce color reflections. In the case of nanostructures, they serve to amplify the reflection of waves, thus creating more distinct colors.

Sometimes, certain animals combine both methods, generating almost infinite color possibilities. The most surprising tones (like the phosphorescent wings of beetles and butterflies, or the saturated colors in the feathers of some birds) derive from arrangements between the pigments and nanostructures in these animals. “Everything we think we can design, nature has already been there and done that, millions of years ago. And animals are capable of doing it with the most basic materials that we can’t even imagine”, points out Saranathan.

What are the most colorful animals that exist?

This is a fierce competition, as the colors among the animals are a true carnival: there are birds with neon tones, bright frogs and sea animals that radiate a true rainbow. Therefore, there are many criteria that can be used to arrive at an answer.

It may be possible to divide them into groups. Among mammals, for example, there is the mandrill , an African monkey with a luminous blue face, whose tone is generated by collagen fibers that reflect certain wavelengths of light. He has a yellow beard and a scarlet snout, which really makes it difficult for other animals to compete with him for the most exuberant position.

Among amphibians, there is an  Amazonian poison dart frog , which glows in shades of red, blue and orange. Among the reptiles, the San Francisco garter snake stands out , which has luminous stripes in turquoise, red and black. But she’s side by side with the panther chameleon, which is so colorful it looks like it’s wearing tie-dyed overalls.

Birds also have a wide variety of tones. The  fiery hummingbird , which is native to Panama, has breathtaking colors. But fish have some of the most polychromatic species that exist. The fairy wrasse has scales in beautiful colors, for example, displaying saturated tones of pink, red, yellow and blue.

Still in the marine kingdom, coral reefs have impressive colors that seem unreal. There is an animal known in Brazil as a centipede that has a kind of armor in ” psychedelic ” colors, reflecting fantastic ultraviolet light.

There is also an ocean creature, which in Brazil is called the sea star or comb jellyfish, which also seems unusual. In fact, it is a phylum of marine animals with translucent, gelatinous and fragile bodies. They have hair-like structures that radiate light in shapes as colorful as a rainbow. Competition between animals is great, making your kingdom extremely colorful and enchanting.


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