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COLOR

IN NATURE

A seahorse with orange spots. A comb jelly flashing rainbow-colored lights. A yellow and blue striped angelfish. A purple sea slug. Why is our world full of such colorful creatures? Scientists investigate the many ways that having colors, and being able to see them, have evolved to help animals survive and reproduce.

Here are some ways that animals use color.

To attract. Sometimes it’s better to be seen than to be hidden. Many animals use eye-catching colors to attract mates. Some use colors to attract prey.

To communicate. Some animals’ colorful exteriors let other animals know that they’re poisonous. But sometimes they’re pretending — their bright colors fool predators into thinking they’re poisonous, even if they’re not.

To hide. Animals use camouflage to hide by blending in with the background or resembling something they’re not, to keep them from getting eaten.

This video shows a fantastic variety of ocean animals that use color in various ways. Watch the video and then test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Color in Nature Quiz

leafy seadragon
1

Does the leafy seadragon use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Camouflage

This marine fish’s leaf-shaped appendages are the color of kelp. This helps conceal the fish in seaweed beds and seagrass meadows off the coast of Australia.

Question 1 of 6
NEXT QUESTION
emperor angelfish
2

Does the emperor angelfish use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Communication

The emperor angelfish changes color as it grows up. Juveniles are dark blue with blue and white rings. Adult fish have yellow and blue stripes, with black around the eyes. They look like completely different fish!

Question 2 of 6
NEXT QUESTION
blue-ringed octopus
3

Does the blue-ringed octopus  use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Communication

This venomous octopus is one of the deadliest animals in the ocean. When this octopus is provoked, its circular rings light up to warn predators that it is deadly.

Question 3 of 6
NEXT QUESTION
Denise's pygmy seahorse
4

Does the Denise’s pygmy seahorse use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Camouflage

This tiny seahorse uses adaptive camouflage. That means that it changes color to blend in with its surrounding. See how much it looks like its coral habitat?

Question 4 of 6
NEXT QUESTION
flamboyant cuttlefish
5

Does the flamboyant cuttlefish use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Communication

When this cuttlefish is attacked, it quickly turns from dark brown to a rainbow of bright colors. This lets its attacker know that it is toxic.

Question 5 of 6
NEXT QUESTION
comb jellies
6

Does the comb jelly use color for attraction, communication, or camouflage?

 

Attraction

 

Communication

 

Camouflage

Nope. Try again!
You got it!

ANSWER: Attraction

This species of comb jellies have rows of shimmering cilia that help them swim. These hairlike structures also glow when the jelly is attacked. The light attracts even larger predators to scare off the attackers.

Question 6 of 6
You got out of 6 right on the first guess.
dividing line

The Museum gratefully acknowledges the Richard and Karen LeFrak Exhibition and Education Fund

Generous support for The Nature of Color has been provided by the Eileen P. Bernard Exhibition Fund.

The Nature of Color is generously supported by Chase Private Client.  

This educational resource for The Nature of Color is made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

Image Credits:

background pattern, © istockphoto.com, by Kroljaaa; all marine animals, courtesy of AMNH.