Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Do Butterflies Have Such Vibrant Colors & Patterns?

Someone might ask, "Why does the paper kite butterfly create a gold chrysalis?" The paper kite butterfly, native to Asia, is light yellow or off-white with an elaborate pattern of swooping black lines and dots. But its chrysalis—a hard case that protects the caterpillar during its final transformation into a butterfly—is a shiny, golden hue.

It's unknown why the chrysalis itself is gold, but its shininess helps camouflage the developing butterfly, says Katy Prudic, a biologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. In particular, the sheen is "disruptive" to potential predators—it makes the chrysalis "hard to detect in a complicated background," Prudic says. A hungry bird may even think it looks like a drop of water.

Camouflage is crucial to chrysalides: Because growing butterflies are unable to move and in danger of being eaten or parasitized, "they're like a sitting duck," Prudic notes.

Giant Swallowtail

The giant swallowtail is another example of chrysalis camo. In that species, the chrysalis resembles part of the tree on which it hangs—or it looks a bit snakelike, depending on the vantage point. 
This species' caterpillar has some tricks up its sleeve: It can resemble bird droppings but can also look like a tiny snake at a later stage of development.

The monarch butterfly chrysalis has what appear to be gold dots and threads, which help the developing insect blend in with leaves.

Adult butterflies also use color to their advantage—not only to blend in but also to warn. For instance, the adult monarch sports a bright orange color and distinctive pattern, a red flag to potential predators that it's distasteful and toxic.

A particularly impressive dual use of color, she adds, is seen in the blue morpho butterfly of the Central and South American rain forests. The brilliant blue of the morpho butterfly helps the insect communicate with others of its kind.

This insect's strikingly blue wing color "is used to communicate among butterflies, so they'll display it when they're courting or mating," she says.Underneath the wing is a dull brown decorated with fantastic eyespots, which alarm and confuse predators.

Underside of Blue Morpho wing

More Than Meets the Eye
As for how we humans perceive those brilliant butterfly colors, it depends. Some color we see is the insect's true pigment, and some is structural, or the way light reflects off a surface.
When you see blue, purple, or white on a butterfly, that's a structural color, while orange, yellow, and black are pigment, Prudic says.

"The nanostructure of the chitin, or wing scale," Prudic says, "affects what light is reflected and how it's reflected." This is what makes butterfly wings iridescent—the quality that makes them change color according to the angle from which you look at them, Prudic says. (Remember the dress worn to a wedding in Scotland in February, 2015 that caused an internet discussion of its "true" color? This is a similar situation. BBL)

Caterpillar Diet
McPherson also asked us what paper kite caterpillars eat to turn the chrysalis golden.
The diet of the caterpillar doesn't affect the hue of the paper kite chrysalis, though it does affect the chrysalis color of other species, Prudic says.
Plant-derived chemicals called flavonoids—which differ in leaves, flowers, and seeds—can influence chrysalis color.

The zebra swallowtail, for example, feeds on the leaves of plants of the  Asimina family—and has a leaf-green chrysalis.

This article was written by Liz Langley for National Geographic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Animals with the Midas Touch

A golden bat recently discovered in Bolivia has joined the ranks of nature’s richly gilded creatures.
The newly described Myotis midastactus is named after Midas, the king of Greek legend who turned everything he touched to gold.

A photo of a golden bat.
The newfound bat, Myotis midastactus. Photograph by Dr. Marco Tschapka

The discovery was made after comparing specimens from museum collections in a study led by Ricardo Moratelli, a wildlife biologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Thought to be confined to central Bolivia’s tropical savanna region, M. midastactus’s “peculiar and distinctive fur color” is a puzzle, Moratelli admitted.
“Apparently it is not related to camouflage, because two other species of Myotis that occur in the same area are consistently darker and use similar [daytime] roosts,” he said. 
Another, unrelated South American bat, Noctilio albiventris, does share the newfound bat’s coloration. Since both species eat colorful insects, their diet may influence their striking appearance, Moratelli added.
Here are more animals that dazzle us with their golden splendor:
Golden Lion Tamarin
Destruction of its coastal rain forest habitat in eastern Brazil has made the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) a familiar zoo refugee. Efforts to reintroduce the animal—listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—into the wild have been successful.

A photo of a golden lion tamarin
A golden lion tamarin, Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative

Named for a lustrous, lion-like mane that frames its dark, impish face, the golden lion tamarin may get its color from exposure to tropical sunlight and a liking for foods rich in carotenoid, a pigment responsible for yellow colors in nature.
Golden Poison Dart Frog
Another South American resident, the golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis) gleams luridly as a warning to predators. The amphibian’s skin contains potent alkaloid toxins that target nerve cells, causing heart and respiratory failure.

A photo of a golden poison dart frog
A golden poison dart frog in Cauca, Colombia. Photograph by Thomas Marent, Minden Pictures/Corbis

Fatal even to large animals, including humans, the frog’s toxin was famously used by indigenous hunters in Colombia to poison their blowpipe darts. 
Where the frog collects the ingredients for its lethal toxin is unknown, though scientists suspect that a diet based on prey beetles from the Melyridae family may be responsible.
Article posted by James Owen in Weird & Wild.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why A Portraitist Added A Fly

15th C. portrait of a woman holding a Forget-me-Not, hood adorned by a fly, unknown German artist


by Steven Connor


The Painter and the Fly


Flies had featured regularly as decorative elements in the margins of medieval illuminated manuscripts and Books of Hours such as the Isabella Breviary. They began to appear in paintings from the fifteenth century onwards. Art historians who have tracked the appearances of the fly over the ensuing century and a half have divided decorously into two groups. For some time, the consensus seemed to be that flies were to be read as religious symbols, connoting sin, corruption and mortality (Kühnel 1989, Estella 2002). The well-known associations between the fly and the name of Beelzebub, ‘Lord of the Flies’, a local Philistine deity first mentioned in 2 Kings 1 and later promoted to the condition of Satan’s lieutenant, helped pin down the fly’s demonic credentials. A clear example of this is The Mystic Betrothal of St. Agnes (c. 1495/1500), by the Master of the St Bartholomew Altarpiece, in the German National Museum in Nuremberg. The Golden Legend tells us that St Agnes gave an unwanted suitor the brush-off by telling him that she was betrothed to Christ. In the background of the painting are two peacocks, symbols of virginity and resurrection, and a larger-than-life fly, symbol of the earthly lusts she has renounced......


....More recently, art historians have begun to wonder whether the fly is quite so easily to be swatted for symbolic purposes. For the fly seems also to be used, as Felix Thülemann has put it, as ‘a selfconscious representation of superior painterly prowess’ (Thülemann 1992, 543). The fact that representations of flies are often to be found in the vicinity of artistic signatures, especially those which have the trompe l’oeil form of the rolled or torn strip of manuscript, seems to heighten the association between the fly and the making, even the maker, rather than the meaning, of the work of art... 

There is an ur-story of the painter and the fly, first told by Filarete in his Trattato di Architettura, written between 1461 and 1464, but known much more widely from Vasari’s brief reference to it in Lives of the Painters (Vasari 1996, I.117). 

The young Giotto arrived in the studio of his master Cimabue, to find a portrait in progress on an easel.

 Giotto painted a fly, seemingly poised on the nose of the painting’s subject. When the Master returned to the studio, 

he attempted repeatedly to brush away the fly. Implicitly, this is the moment at which the genius of the young Giotto was noticed, and a new area of realism inaugurated. The story was quickly transferred to other artists. In his fictitious dialogue between Leonardo and Pheidias, Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo has Leonardo tell how the young Andrea Mantegna fooled his Mantuan Master by painting a fly on the eyelash of a lion in his painting of St Jerome; envious of his talents, the Mantuan master sent his uppity apprentice away to work with Bellini (Lomazzo 1974, I.93-4). 

In these stories, the fly signals the art that conceals art of the painter, an ostentation arising in ordinariness, a perfecting defacement.....


When they stumble into art, flies are the ground promoted to the status of figure, a breaking through into visible significance of the blooming buzzing monotony of the insignificant, the accidental, the ignored; they are what Wallace Stevens calls ‘a repetition/In a repetitiousness of men and flies’ (Stevens 1984, 502). Where other lowly or loathly creatures have often been held to characterise the abject or the informe, flies have a more specific office. As embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen, as synecdoches of the untransfigured quotidian, their principal signification is as the opposite of art. And yet, for that very reason, flies have whizzed and crept and tiptoed across art and writing for centuries, never quite achieving the status of a subject, of that which may be fixed in view, and yet irresistibly drawing the eye and soliciting the attentions of the forming hand.


Flies are, in two senses, a provocation to art – a nose thumbed at art’s grandiose self-esteem, and a challenge to the artist’s skill. The fly is always caught – as though on a windowpane - between the condition of emblem and phenomenon: at first sight a mere smudge, blot or blemish, which then becomes the emblem of its own obstructive phenomenality.  


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Fish of a Different Color

During our residency in Tulsa, Oklahoma, many koi ponds decorated back yards from modest houses to the palatial Philbrook mansion. Collecting fish as a hobby has a long history. Color plays a role.

Modern goldfish, staples of aquariums and ornamental ponds across the world, are the descendants of small carp domesticated in ancient China thousands of years ago. The original fish were a silver color with the occasional mutation yielding a more colorful variation in red, orange, or yellow. The first such mutations were recorded during the Jin Dynasty over fifteen centuries ago.
It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty, around 618 – 907, however, that the keeping of carp in ornamental ponds became popular. It was also around this time that people began isolating the fish with unique gold coloration to further breed them in hopes of producing more distinct coloration.
Even with the initial interest in the Tang Dynasty, there weren’t many truly golden fish; it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty in the 12th century that the goldfish really came into its own. Starting in 1162, the empress of the Song Dynasty ordered the construction of an enormous pond specifically for the purpose of breeding red and gold variants. From there, the practice of breeding and keeping goldfish became enmeshed and by the 17th century goldfish had even spread to Europe.

Color stands out in the murky water of ponds, no wonder the vivid colors of fish became so popular.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Psychology of Color and Branding

Gregory Ciotti explains why we are drawn to certain items because of their color. Marketers spend lots of money to determine color preferences of potential customers, so we need to know this to avoid being taken in by those who have studied color choices. Well informed = well armed, or becoming a savvy shopper:

Misconceptions around the Psychology of Color

Why does color psychology invoke so much conversation ... but is backed with so little factual data?
As research shows, it's likely because elements such as personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, context, etc., often muddy the effect individual colors have on us. So the idea that colors such as yellow or purple are able to invoke some sort of hyper-specific emotion is about as accurate as your standard Tarot card reading.
The conversation is only worsened by incredibly vapid visuals that sum up color psychology with awesome "facts" such as this one:
The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding
Don't fret, though. Now it's time to take a look at some research-backed insights on how color plays a role in persuasion.

The Importance of Colors in Branding

First, let's address branding, which is one of the most important issues relating to color perception and the area where many articles on this subject run into problems.
There have been numerous attempts to classify consumer responses to different individual colors:
The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding
Image credit: The Logo Company
... but the truth of the matter is that color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings.
But there are broader messaging patterns to be found in color perceptions. For instance, colors play a fairly substantial role in purchases and branding.
In an appropriately titled study called Impact of Color in Marketing, researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on color alone (depending on the product).
And in regards to the role that color plays in branding, results from studies such as The Interactive Effects of Colors show that the relationship between brands and color hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the color being used for the particular brand (in other words, does the color "fit" what is being sold).
The study Exciting Red and Competent Blue also confirms that purchasing intent is greatly affected by colors due to the impact they have on how a brand is perceived. This means that colors influence how consumers view the "personality" of the brand in question (after all, who would want to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle if they didn't get the feeling that Harleys were rugged and cool?).
Additional studies have revealed that our brains prefer recognizable brands, which makes color incredibly important when creating a brand identity. It has even been suggested in Color Research & Application that it is of paramount importance for new brands to specifically target logo colors that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors (if the competition all uses blue, you'll stand out by using purple).