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Iridescence as Camouflage

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Samuel Matchette.

Iridescence is an enigmatic and striking form of structural coloration that changes depending on the angle of view, or angle of illumination. It is widespread in the animal kingdom, and can be admired in everything from the shimmering, metallic elytra of beetles, to the mesmerizing feathers that adorn peacocks and hummingbirds. Bright colours are often considered an evolutionary trade-off; yes, they may serve an important function as signals in mate choice, but they might also attract the attention of a hungry predator. The ‘father’ of modern camouflage theory, Abbot Thayer, proposed a surprising idea about the function of iridescence: that it could work as a highly effective form of camouflage. Thayer’s idea is completely counter-intuitive, how can colours that are both brilliant and changeable contribute to an animal’s concealment?

In this talk, I will present data to show that biological iridescence, produced by multilayer cuticular reflectors in real jewel beetle (Sternocera aequisignata) wing cases, and in our UK-native Rose chafers (Cetonia aurata) provides effective protection against predation by birds, and that the most likely explanation for this is, indeed, camouflage. These studies are the first to provide empirical evidence for the century-old hypothesis that iridescence can work as a form of camouflage in a natural setting, providing an adaptive explanation for why iridescence has evolved independently so many times.

This talk is part of the Zoology Departmental Seminar Series series.

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