Chameleons’ colour-changing ways are well-known, but precisely how they do it has remained a mystery until this week. They are far from the only animals with the skill, deployed for camouflage, in reaction to stress, to warn predators, woo partners — even to regulate temperature. The golden tortoise beetle does its colour-changing while mating. But how do animals change colour?
In many cases the process starts in the eye, where the colours of the environment, a rival or a mate are acquired. How does that signal in the brain lead to a change in hue? The answer lies in cells called chromatophores. Some contain sacs of various pigments. In animals such as the octopus, squid or cuttlefish, colour changes when a complex network of muscles adjusts the sizes
and positions of different sacs within the skin.
Other creatures use optical trickery in related cells called iridophores. In damselfish, light waves bounce between thin plates within these cells. The colour reflected depends on the spacing of the plates. The fish can precisely shift that separation across millions of cells by just billionths of a metre, in under a second.
Chameleons, scientists have just worked out, use a bit of nanotechnology. They have two layers of iridophores, each containing regularly spaced crystals of the chemical guanine. When combative males strut their colourful stuff, they are changing the spacing within each crystal lattice, creating what are called bandgaps that permit or preclude the passage of certain colours.
Humans experience a rather simpler colour change. Blushing is just a rush of blood to the face, parts of which have larger blood vessels closer to the skin’s surface. Although it’s easy to induce the effect, the biological purpose of blushing is still a matter of debate.
Melani Update – Talking to Melani – I hope these words come out right. Its so hard to describe Melani in the way that she deserves. Here goes.
There are things in life that matter and there are things that don’t, but sometimes people just let the things that don’t matter over ride them. Putting aside what were learn as human beings on a day to day basis, or what human lives we have lived, when it comes to also having animals in our human lives you suddenly become aware that there is a great chasm inside of you that you never even knew was there.
If you open your heart, when an animal comes into your life you are suddenly taught new things and filled with things that were unteachable by a human being.
There are things that animals have taught me that I already knew such as only to care about what really matters, try and remain dignified, endurance under extreme negatives, and patience.
These things obviously can be learned in human life situations, but when you walk beside an animal or follow the life of an animal, all of those things (care about what really matters, dignity, endurance, patience etc) are taken to a higher level of understanding.
But then when you walk beside an injured or ailing animal, you go to an even deeper level of understanding of the meaning of endurance, dignity, patience, and what really matters. Suddenly you realise that there was a massive hole inside of you that you never ever knew existed, and it took a beautiful creature to unveil that missing part of your soul.
As touching and beautiful as humans can be, no human can show you that missing part, it is only an animal that can do that.
Yes, I promise you I am not crazy lol I am trying to explain a little about what beauty an animal holds, not just the outside appearance, but what is inside of them, if you only listen and open your heart.
Ive worked with a lot of animals over a lot of years. Rarely you come across a creature that possesses something different, nearly like a higher animal intellect of some kind. An extraordinary quality where they are equal if not more intelligent than a human. But the big difference is that even if they are more intelligent, they would never make you feel a lesser being. To them, you are you, and they except you for who you are. Unconditionally.
I helped raise a beautiful male Bengal tiger named Harnfa who possessed a higher extraordinary intelligence, I never thought I would meet another tiger like that in my life. Harnfa is amazing, protective, loving and has such deep emotions. I love him so.
But then came beautiful Melani, the desperately ill and suffering Sumatran tiger. I remember first seeing her covered in that black oily substance, wondering how could she actually have the will to live. She was so tiny, 47kg….
From the very beginning you could tell she was different. She possessed this rare and extraordinary quality. It is nearly indescribable. As Harnfa is the strong, brave, protective, enduring, loving Bengal boy, Melani was a frail, courageous, heart of gold, and will to live being. Both carried severe burdens inflicted on them by humans, both with the ability to recognise when a human was being kind. Some animals, especially tigers, cannot do that.
But here she was. I was never shocked or horrified at her frail appearance, from the very first moment I met her, my instinct was go to her and tell her how much she is loved and to hold on, that she is safe, and stroke her pretty face.
Over the past year, Melani has talked a lot to me and I to her. When she was very sick, her voice was softer but still full of love. She was in obvious pain but would over look that in order to chuff or give you a rub.
Sometimes I would be looking into her eyes and talking about something and then she would just close her eyes tight and flinch in pain. After the wave of pain passed, she would open her eyes again. I would say “are you ok girl” she would chuff. The poison had ravaged her and the medicines worked slowly.
So the conversations with me and Melani have ranged from me telling her how much she is loved, talking all about what ive been doing, many times there was no need to talk as I looked into her gentle eyes and she looked back. There was nothing that needed to be said, yet there were a million things being said at the same time, just in silence. I just held her paw or stroked her face.
The day that she had no more pain was a wonderful day. She still behaved the same way except more animated and lively. She started to show more of her personality, the humorous side, the excited side, the very happy-to-have-her-food side!!!, and her affection, oh her affection.
How can I describe this…… hmmm When she was still very sick and in pain, Melani was always affectionate and loving, but she was not rubbing on you in a strong way, just gently. Now, her affection is very strong and rubs on you with strength and lots of mega chuffs She pushes her head into my hands and loves the scratches around her ears and under her chin.
And the talks still go on, when we talk there is life and brightness in her voice now, gone is desperate sorrow and pain endurance conversations and times. Replaced by a tiger that just loves life and loves who she loves and shows it.
On this photo, she had been running (yes running) around her enclosure and into her pool and talking about all sorts of things. Then she got sleepy and I walked up with her where she laid down in the sunshine.
I was telling her thankyou for being alive, for her loving and affectionate soul, and I told her how very much I loved her, and how the whole world loves her. She was chuffing gently and those beautiful eyes just kept watching as her eyelids got heavier.
I told her that the world is a better place with her in it and thanked her for allowing me into her life.
But it was the unspoken words, the emotions, the knowing eyes that looked on with love, the movement of her paw reaching out, our hands/paw holding. That is the best moments. Unconditional love.
Her lovely eyes finally closed and she fell asleep in the sunshine, and the cover pic of this page, is the picture of her after this conversation we had.
No matter how much time this dear girl has on earth, I thank god she is was given to us, to know, to teach us about humanity, to teach us to be more kind, but also that animal is very capable of every emotion.
Love is Melani’s most outstanding quality. xoxox ~ Sybelle
In her book “Animal Wise,” Virginia Morell gets inside our fellow creatures’ heads.
Christine Dell’Amore National Geographic
Partly inspired by her 2008 National Geographic magazine article, “Animal Minds,” the book was just named a finalist for the 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize in Science and Technology.
From ants that teach, to earthworms that make decisions, to rats that love to be tickled, Morell aims to reshape our understanding of animals and their emotions. For the book, she shadowed several innovative scientists investigating the animal psyche, focusing on well-known species such as dolphins and the domestic dog.
We caught up with Morell to ask her about her book and what she wants us to know about what’s going on in an animal’s head.
How did this book come about?