Colour in Action

A collaboration between Questacon and the Australian National Insect Collection, CSIRO exploring the ways that insects use colour.

What Science Tells Us

Insects mainly use colour for two reasons: camouflage and warning colouration (aposematism). Insects, unlike birds, do not generally use colour for attracting mates (sexual display). The visual system of most insects is too primitive, with poor colour differentiation and distance vision.

This means that most of the brightly coloured insects we see are either distasteful or dangerous to eat, or are pretending to be distasteful or dangerous to eat (mimicry). ‘Dangerous to eat’ in this instance includes both insects that are toxic to ingest, or that vigorously defend themselves, such as the bees and wasps in this display.

Things to Try or Ask

What colourful insects have you seen? What do you think they were using the colour for?

How many insects do you see that are camouflaged? How many have you missed because you could not see them?

Finding the Science in Your World

Humans use warning colouration in danger and hazard signage. Bright reds, yellows and oranges are applied to signs to warn people of hazards in the environment.