The Hidden Meaning Behind Animals’ Different Colors


| LAST UPDATE 10/31/2022

By Daria Appleby
Amphibian Color Evolution Survival
VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The animal kingdom is truly amazing. There are hundreds of different kinds of species, sizes, and even colors. But what is it about these animals that allow them to differ from one another? Animal fashion has been going on for years, with some species going extinct and others continuing to reproduce. Though, these qualities and aesthetics have reasons behind them. 

Every animal serves a different purpose. While each animal ranges - from breed to who they prey on and its natural habitat, it is all for a good reason. This explains why these animals are able to live for as long as they can, and their color specifically contributes to this. Recently, a pattern has been discovered regarding animal color. For example, when taking a look at a male northern cardinal (bird), its red presence has been established to draw in mates. Though, when looking at the amphibian, strawberry poison-dart frogs, their firey aesthetic is a warning to stay away, or a deadly toxin could be released. Overall, color serves the purpose of survival. Zachary Emberts from Oklahoma State University and John Wiens from The University of Arizona investigated further the correlation between color and evolution. Their study used 1,824 species of land vertebrates and categorized them by color. 

Amphibian Color Evolution Survival
DeAgostini via Getty Images
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According to the UoA website, Embert added, "traits that we see today in species can be a result of their evolutionary history." To establish these findings, they scrutinized animals that were active during the day and ones that had an ancestral history of being active at night. While no relationship was found between day and night activity, each animal continued to perform in separate hours due to history from 350 million years. The way color is produced is irrelevant, but the pattern between the time of day is in accordance with how the color performs. They found ancient species that started out with plain colors but evolved over time to stand out. Just like a human wearing nightgear, the animals who were brightly colored survived the most. Hence, generations reproduced, and color enhanced every time. For example, the colors red, orange, yellow, and purple were all similarly related to "sex-signaling and warning," meaning they would lure in males and avoid predators. On the other hand, the color blue was found primarily for mating. The females who hold these colors proudly are able to hide from predators and be seen by potential mates, steering toward reproducing offspring. Wein also spotted, "Warning colors have evolved even in species with no eyes," raising the question of whether amphibians with no eyes, such as snakes, can even see color. 

The researchers found these results may evolve over time, just like the characteristics of these animals and amphibians. It will be interesting to see whether certain colors will transform or enhance further over time, establishing which animals are most likely to survive based on their traits. 

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