Tag Archives: animals

The Animal Kingdom Uses Color to Survive

Humans have it easy compared to other species in the animal kingdom. We reign at the top of the food chain and do not fear becoming another animal’s lunch. However, survival is a real concern for other mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish.

Nevertheless, today the animal kingdom is alive and well because different species have developed non-aggressive defense techniques. For instance, throughout the process of evolution, several animals have changed colors to better blend into their surroundings. Beyond protection, animals also use color to attract mates, and, in effect, prolong the existence of their species.

When we think of color-changing animals, chameleons quickly come to mind, but do you know that flamingos, robins, and snakes are said to have developed their colors somewhat deliberately, too?

For instance, baby flamingos are gray while adults are pink because the flamingo diet includes foods filled with carotenoids, which contain natural color pigments. Some of these foods include shrimp, crabs and algae.

Humans can realize this color changing sensation to some degree. Have you heard of a person’s skin or eyes turning orange after eating a lot of carrots? “Carotenoids,” advises an NPR article “are abundant in plants, where they play a role in photosynthesis. Different carotenoids make carrots orange and beets red….”

Diets rich with carotenoids shine a new light on the familiar phrase you are what you eat. However, the same article points out that “Animals… have a lot of… color limitations.” An Ornithologist from Yale, Rick Prum, points out that birds with mostly brown and gray coloring can develop yellow and red tints if they eat certain foods but they will not have the same luck if they want to turn blue or green.  In fact, Prum says, “Blue is fascinating because the vast majority of animals are incapable of making it with pigments.” Nevertheless, several species appear blue.

Since pigment-rich diets rarely produce this color, how can animals like beetles and butterflies appear blue?

The answer is simple: several blue animals employ optical illusions. A biologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Dan Babbitt, uses morpho butterflies to explain this phenomenon.

The butterflies have a 6-inch wingspan — one side a dull brown and the other a vibrant, reflective blue. The butterflies have tiny transparent structures on the surface of their wings that bounce light in just the right way to make them appear a vibrant blue that’s so bright it almost hurts your eyes. But if you grind up the wings, the dust — robbed of its reflective prism structures — would just look gray or brown.

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Many animals have centuries of diet and optical illusions to thank for their survival. By eating high carotenoid diets or employing strategies of design, animals have developed colors that allow them to protect themselves from attackers, as well as attract mates.

Even though humans have it easy, sitting at the top of the food chain, it doesn’t mean we know it all. In fact, we learn a lot from observing animals who know how to survive and thrive and adjust to their surroundings.

Read more Segmation blog posts about art and color:

Coral Reefs: Rainforests of the Sea

Communicating with Color in the Animal Kingdom

An Art Project For Human Kind

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Sea Urchins have left the Beach to Inspire Art

Inspired by mythology, animals and Ernst Haeckel, Jennifer Maestre has created a beautiful, intricate and somewhat dangerous art design .

This talented artist builds 3-dimensional art with colored pencils. In fact, the South Africa native is internationally known for her creative use of these and other objects like beads, nails, and pins too.

Her color pencil designs are especially captivating because of her unique interpretation of familiar animals and plants seen in nature. She reveals how she builds the sculptures on her website. In short, she uses hundreds of pencils that are cut into 1-inch sections. Then she drills a hole in each piece, making them resemble beads. After sharpening the points she sews them together with a peyote stitch.

While this is all very interesting, there is another element to Jennifer Maestre’s art that is astounding: Her inspiration. In a statement about the sculptures, Maestre notes that the form and function of sea urchins sparked and fueled her idea. She talks about the paradox that exist between the beauty of a colorful sea urchin that invites an individual’s touch and the danger of the sharp points on its shell. With this in mind, she set out to create art with that same tension.

Maestre dose a wonderful job with this because sea urchins are dangerous yet alluring, and have sharp but beautiful shells. In fact, did you know that every ocean has sea urchins? They are known to travel in groups, with other sea urchins and those in the same echinoderm phylum family. This kin has a lot of room to move around ocean waters, considering they travel as low as 13,000 feet below sea level.

Visually speaking, the most catching characteristic of a sea urchin is its spiny shell. An interesting fact about these creatures is the name “Urchin,” which was once a common name for hedgehog. But the sea animal has dull colors and a globular form. This is makes for a clear distinction from the shrew.

In the same fashion, Jennifer Maestre’s pieces are quite different from her original source of inspiration.  Perhaps the reason why this is so, is because, as the artist says in her own words, “I’m inspired by animals, plants, other art, Ernst Haeckel, Odilon Redon, mythology. In fact, it isn’t easy to specify particular sources of inspiration. Sometimes one sculpture will inspire the next, or maybe I’ll make a mistake, and that will send me off in a new direction.”

Get a better view of Jennifer Maestre’s work on her website: www.jennifermaestre.com

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