Why are many animals black and white?

There are many animals that are black and white, such as pandas and zebras.

The black and white pattern can be stripes, spots, patterns, or ‘block’ areas.

There are several theories why animals are black and white, such as that black and white is aposematic, countershading, or cryptically-coloured.

giant panda

giant panda

Aposematic: Aposematic means ‘away sign’ or ‘away signal’ – the colour is a warning to predators to go away. Other colours can be aposematic too, not just black and white. Aposematic signals warn other animals not to attack it, or to signal that the animal is poisonous to eat. The animal might not actually be poisonous, but it wants other animals to think that it is.

porcupine

porcupine

Countershading: Countershading means ‘against or opposite shades’ – usually where an animal has half or part of its body in one colour (such as black) and half or part of its body in the opposite colour (such as white). Countershading of light and dark colours is a form of camouflage to keep animals safe from predators.

tapir

tapir

lemur

lemur

seagull

seagull

Cryptically-coloured: Cryptic means ‘mysterious’ or ‘puzzling’ and cryptically-coloured can mean ‘indirect’ colour. Cryptically-coloured patterns on animals are used as camouflage or to confuse a predator.

Zebra

zebra

Zebra

zebra

lemur

ring-tailed lemur

fish

fish

butterfly

butterfly

Attention-seeking: Black and white may be used to attract a mate, resulting in reproduction and survival of the species.

dog

dog

cat

cat

cormorant

cormorant

Another reason that scientists think that many animals are black and white is that some predators cannot see colour, so animals that are black and white have good chance of blending into the environment, making it difficult for predators to see them.

Penguins

penguins

 

magpie

magpie

bird

bird

 

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

 

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