Ranger Rick Colors Gone Wild October 2015

Color Gone Wild

By Gerry Bishop

Nature is never dull—even in black, white, or brown. But when it’s in full color, it can be dazzling! Check out the creatures, and you’ll see that sometimes there are very good reasons to flaunt your colors!

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Most of the time, a male chameleon (kuh-MEE-lee-un) like this one is dark green or blue. And that can help him blend in with the surrounding rainforest. But if a female or another male comes along, look out! His skin colors explode into a rainbow of bold, bright hues. What’s going on? To the male, he’s saying, “This is my place, so get lost!” And to the female, he’s saying, “Hi, there. I’m so handsome, I just know you want me to be your mate!”

Why do toucans have such big and colorful bills? Scientists know that the bills help keep these tropical birds cool by releasing extra body heat. And for that, bigger is better. But what about those bright colors? Do they help toucans recognize each other? Do they help scare off other birds so the toucans can rob the birds’ nests? Turns out that this is still one very big—and beautiful—mystery.

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An adult male mandrill is the most colorful mammal on Earth. And if you think the colors on these monkeys are all about grabbing attention, you’re right!
Mandrills live in groups, each ruled by a huge male with extra-bold colors. To males who might want to challenge him, the colors say loud and clear, “You’d better not mess with me!” And for females interested in mating, the brighter the colors, the better!

Now you see it, but most of the time you won’t. That’s because this little mantis spends its days hiding among flowers. Its body blends in so well that it almost disappears. When a bee or butterfly comes near, the mantis snatches it with its front legs and eats it.
But what if a hungry bird comes by instead? There’s a good chance the bird won’t even see the mantis. But if it does, and tries to attack, the mantis goes into its big BOO! act. Its wings shoot into the air and, with luck, those big, colorful “eyes” scare the bird away.

Sometimes, a tiny fish needs big colors! This kind is only about the size of a grownup’s little finger. So you’d think it would be easy prey for the many larger fish that hang out on the coral reefs of the South Pacific Ocean. But a ­mandarin fish’s skin is covered with nasty-tasting slime. And those colors are a clear warning to any hungry predators: “Go for me, and you’ll wish you hadn’t!”

When it’s mating time, a male pheasant has two big jobs to do: His first is to claim a piece of property and keep other males away from it. His second job is to impress the females who come to look him over. He’ll strut around, spread his tail and wing feathers, and even offer bits of food to nearby females. Then he’ll raise the glittery-green feather tufts at the back of his head and puff up the red skin patches around his eyes. What female could resist such a good-looking guy?


“Colors Gone Wild!” originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

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