Shiny signalling: the production, detection and neurobiological processing of brilliant colours

  • van der Kooi, Casper (Chief Investigator)
  • Kemp, Darrell (Primary Chief Investigator)
  • Kinoshita, Michiyo (Chief Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


The visual signals of numerous plants and animals are dominated by directional reflections, created by glossy flowers (buttercups, orchids, tulips) or shiny wings (butterflies, beetles), that are visible as a flash. The flash constitutes a paradox in visual ecology, because it may enhance the long-range visibility but it likely undermines the colour and polarisation signal of an object at short range.
We will study how highly directional visual cues determine the visibility of flowers and butterflies, by combining our expertise in biophysics, animal behaviour and neurobiological processing in an ecological framework. We will investigate the optical properties of glossy flowers and their visitors (particularly butterflies), evaluate how directional reflections determine long-distance detection and short-distance discrimination in behavioural assays, and establish how a flash is processed by the insect brain. We predict that the spectral and polarisation properties of flashy objects are tuned to maximise signal strength and match flicker intensity/frequency to the observer. The project will determine the functional significance of glossy colours in pollination and sexual selection.
Short titleShiny signals
Effective start/end date1/11/2331/10/26