Animal colouration provides some of the most striking examples of evolution by natural and sexual selection. But animal colours did not evolve for our benefit. The impressive array of colours that we see (and can’t see) in the natural world allows animals to communicate with each other, attract mates and avoid predators.
This exhibit explains the evolution and diversity of animal
colouration, including 'hidden' colours that are invisible to
humans, by considering how these colours appear to those who matter
most, the animals themselves.
How it works
We rely overwhelmingly on colour vision in our everyday lives
and tend to assume that what we see represents the limits of the
visual world. However colour vision in animals, and their resultant
perception of the world, often differs considerably from our
Many animals, for example, can see ultraviolet light, some can
see polarised light and a good number can see many more colours
than we can. On the other hand, some animals see far fewer colours
than humans - which is something that anyone who is colour blind
can sympathise with.
Because animal colours evolved for the benefit of animal eyes,
not human eyes, understanding the visual world from an
animal's point of view can explain why some animals are bright
while others are dull, some are highly patterned and others plain.
This sheds new light on the animal colours we can see, and helps us
to understand the importance of colours that we can't.
You can play a game about finding colour-camouflaged prey
here and a game about viewing the world through the
eyes of different animals here (requires a webcam).
Lead image credit: illie72/Flickr