MEANS A LOT TO WILDLIFE
May 9, 2010
be powerful symbols. For most U.S. citizens, the words "red, white,
and blue" conjure up flag, Uncle Sam, the Fourth of July, or some
other icon of our country. "Red and green" may bring to mind
Christmas. Halloween is associated with "orange and black."
Only human beings are aware of such symbolism, but colors affect the lives
of many plants and animals.
most of which can see a wide color spectrum, color is a common feature
for breeding purposes. Male goldfinches during the mating season are bright
yellow. Male red-winged blackbirds are constantly displaying the bright
red and yellow epaulets hidden beneath their black wing feathers. The
females of both species are drab by comparison. The bright colors, which
help males attract mates, are important for successful reproduction in
these and other bird species.
such as the small but brilliantly colored darters of southeastern streams,
also sport distinctive color differences between the sexes during spring
breeding. Male Warrior darters, Tallapoosa darters, and Coastal Plain
darters in Alabama are beautiful creatures with combinations of red, yellow,
orange, and green. The pale females are generally yellowish and brownish.
in most mammals color is restricted to whites, browns, grays, and black.
The brightly colored rump region of male baboons is the most obvious display
of color among mammals, except for hair color among some of today's teenagers
use color to great advantage, particularly for advertising. Some brightly
colored flowers attract insects that are essential for pollination. Few
plants can be accused of false advertising as the insect lured to a flower
is usually treated to nectar. Bright red or yellow berries that attract
birds such as cedar waxwings offer a meal for the bird and ensure that
the enclosed seed will later be deposited in another area.
use color not to attract attention but to avoid it. Camouflage is a common
characteristic of animals whose lifestyles require that they be difficult
to see. The spotted coats of adult leopards and baby deer help them hide
from the eyes of other animals--from prey in the first case, from predators
in the second. Although the reason for the spots is quite different, both
are clearly adapted to blend into particular habitats. Numerous examples
exist for which the environment dictates the color pattern, whether for
protection in a prey species or for secrecy in a predator.
of camouflage among our native wildlife is readily seen in a gray treefrog
sitting on an oak tree or other drab background. A biological phenomenon
known as flash coloration adds an intriguing defense feature for some
frogs and other animals. When a gray treefrog, which is truly unimpressive
in color, is pursued by a bird that intends to make a meal of it, the
frog jumps, displaying bright yellow underparts. Upon landing on a tree
and tucking in its legs, the frog blends back into its background. The
bird, meanwhile, has been startled and missed the frog. Upon recovering
its dignity, the bird goes in search of something yellow that cannot be
found because the gray frog is lying flat against the gray bark of the
phenomenon, albinism, is not a product of the natural environment of plants
and animals. Albinism is the expression of a genetic condition that can
be inherited, although neither parent need be an albino. An albino is
incapable of producing the pigments that normally give color to hair,
skin, feathers, and other surface tissues. Plants can also be albinos.
But survival in the wild is virtually impossible for an albino plant and
is difficult for most albino animals.
critical to the survival and propagation of the majority of animals and
plants throughout the world. And understanding the whys and wherefores
of coloration in nature gives researchers insight into what is going on
in the natural environment. But you don't have to be a scientist to appreciate
a bright red cardinal, a yellow daffodil, or an indigo bunting.
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