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Catalina Island Conservancy

Story and Photos by Carlos de la Rosa


September 2009


A bright flash of crimson cutting across the field of view. A sudden burst of blue in the twilight of a tropical forest. A dash of green running underneath a leaf on the forest floor. These and many more are examples of iridescence - the characteristic of certain surfaces to change colors depending on the angle of light.

This phenomenon is more common that you may think. Soap bubbles, for example, display iridescence, as do the wings of many butterflies and other insects; the feathers of some hummingbirds and other birds; the inside surface of abalone shells; the subtle and diaphanous surfaces of pearls; some fossils, such as ammonites; and even in some custom automobile paint jobs (called interference pigments).

In spite of how common iridescence is, scientists are still trying to answer some fundamental questions such as how surfaces are arranged to produce iridescence, how organisms make the compounds involved in the phenomenon, and how an iridescent trait originated in some animals and what role it plays in their behavior and life. Iridescence adds a jewel-like quality to objects and creatures and creates an ever changing, exciting array of colors and hues in nature.

Come and explore the ins and outs of iridescence and color in Catalina creatures and beyond! Explore here.