Is there a metabolic cost to the generation of bright colours in animals?

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Gary Staab

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Gary Staab asked the Naked Scientists:
It there a metabolic cost to the generation of bright colours on certain animals? Some birds for instance have brighter breeding colours. Thanks for any help you can give. regards, Gary
What do you think?



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Can't see why there would be.  There may be a risk in some case in higher predation (rather depends on the animal - in many species, bright colours are a warning of poison, and so may help against predation).

If the colour is a warning of toxins, then I would guess the toxins would probably have a metabolic cost; and it is conceivable that certain particular cases of bright colours might be indicative of a more complex process that has a cost.

Bear in mind that what may seem bright in the visual spectrum on one animal, may not be visible at all as a colour within the visual spectrum of another animal, since different species of animals can have very different ranges of colour they are able to see.


Offline Kryptid

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I suspect that there would be, although it probably depends on how the bright colors are created. Bright colors in some animals are due to pigments, whereas others are due to certain optical effects caused by microstructures (as in certain butterflies). In birds, both forms are known.

If the pigment needs to be created by the bird's metabolism, then cellular machinery that was inactive or less active in the nonbreeding phase would need to become more active during the breeding phase. This would require some expenditure of energy. On the other hand, carotenoid pigments can be obtained from a bird's diet (such as in the northern cardinal), which probably requires much less metabolic effort than generating pigments from scratch.

EDIT: Actually, I can think of a possible scenario where putting on breeding colors would be less expensive metabolically than having their normal coloration. I don't know if this is the case in any species, but it seems plausible. Let's say that a bird is normally green due to a combination of yellow pigmentation and blue iridescence (due to the microstructures I mentioned earlier). Let's also say that the breeding color of this particular bird is blue. In order to achieve that color, all it would have to do is stop producing yellow pigment. All that's left would be the blue iridescence. Hence, a lack of pigment could produce new coloration.
« Last Edit: 26/04/2008 03:23:08 by Supercryptid »
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