More Colorful Than They Appear

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SHIMMERY SPECIES: Anna’s hummingbird—found on the West Coast of North America—is one of about 16 hummingbird species that live in the U.S.

Hummingbirds are known for their vibrant plumage. In fact, scientists recently discovered that hummingbirds exhibit a wider range of colors than all other bird species combined. This even includes some colors that humans can’t see!

Researchers at Yale University in Connecticut examined 114 species of hummingbirds. They shined light onto the animals’ feathers and measured the wavelengths of light that reflected back. Each wavelength corresponds to a particular color. In addition to a range of blues, greens, and purples, scientists found shades of ultraviolet (UV) light, which is invisible to humans. The team even detected a new color that’s half blue and half ultraviolet, which they named “ultraturquoise.”

Even though humans can’t see ultraviolet light, birds can! People’s eyes contain cells called cones that detect red, green, and blue light. Birds’ eyes have a fourth cone that detects ultraviolet light. This means birds can see “all kinds of colors we can’t imagine,” says ornithologist Richard Prum, a scientist who studies birds and was involved in this research.

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