Colour plays an important role in the world around us. We humans use it to achieve a wide array of tasks. It spices up our wardrobes, it is used to control traffic, to influence purchasing within advertising and at times even to discriminate. Within the animal kingdom colour can be equally important and there are numerous species that have evolved ways to recognise and utilise colour to their advantage.
Colour can be used for protection, for displaying aggression, for attracting a mate or for finding a meal. Whilst colour for some literally aids in survival, there are animals that don’t recognise colour like we do. For some, like those who live in dark environments, colour has no meaning and they manage to survive completely without it. In cases where colour is of little to no importance one often finds that these species use other heightened senses like touch, smell or even hearing in order to interact with the environment around them.
One of the most common ways colour is utilised to one’s advantage is for camouflage. Camouflage is used by both predators and prey and can be the single difference whether one gets a meal or becomes one. The coat colouration and pattern of the local Spotted Genet is such an effective camouflage that it not only facilitates the evasion of detection whilst hunting but it allows this fairly common animal to remain somewhat of a mystery to local human residents who are hardly aware they live right alongside them.
While there are those who do their utmost to blend in with the colours of the landscape, there are others who capitalise on displays of colour in order to stand out. Many species of fish, birds, reptiles and even mammals use bright colours to advertise their fertility and readiness to breed. One can’t help but spot a flaming Red Bishop jostling for attention in the reeds or the radiant blue scrotum of a resident Blouaap as they parade around town. It’s often the males who adopt these vibrant displays while the duller colours of the female help protect her during the times in which she must sit on her eggs or care for the young.
The manipulation of colour is not a trait reserved for animals; plants use it in multiple forms to sway the choice of animals to the plant’s benefit. Plants attract pollinators of all varieties to flowers by using colour as advertising. At times these colours and patterns are so specialized that they can only be seen by insects and are not visible to the human eye. Fruits will often ripen into a more appealing colour in order to facilitate them being eaten and thus ensuring seed dispersal.
Not all members of the animal kingdom enjoy or rely on colour for survival, but for the many that do their adaptation and usage of colour are truly impressive. In the natural world colour is a lot more than a finishing touch, it is often a defining favour in aiding the preservation and perpetuation of genetics and life. With the palette of life on our doorsteps it’s unfortunate that at times we as humans refuse to see anything but black and white.