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Colour is above all a vital strategic element for certain species in which sunlight has favoured the development of a visual system which allows them to distinguish the pigmented aspects of their environment.
Thus the ocelli of certain butterflies even imitate a pair of eyes intended to frighten or attract, according to the receiver, while stick-insects and chameleons, for instance, have adopted a more sophisticated strategy that allows them to cancel their colour, if they have any …One might feel inclined to belief in some sort of hormonal« intention » when we consider the adaptation of other species whose coat changes colour according to the seasons of their environment.
Ethology has abundantly demonstrated the part played by colour in mating displays.
White and black are also chromatic values with the infinite variety of their admixture. They belong to various species that react more promptly to movement.
Colour consequently, and beyond its function in natural selection, spark offensive and defensive responses, thus penetrating with some violence into the realm of the emotions. As far as animals are concerned, the alternative is usually fight or flight.
But such is the complexity of nature that in certain borderline cases, the animal favours a compromise solution: he plays dead – which indicates the importance of the visual when dealing with an elaborate visible organism.
In an article I wrote for an exhibition in Aix-en Provence in 1982 I quoted the case of the shrew that allows itself no emotional alternative.
But what is caught in the « regard » is another kettle of fish.
David Lipszyc
24 February 2011