Monday 28 April 2008

Why are animals colourful? Sex and violence, seeing and signals

Professor Justin Marshall


Colours made by animals or by other objects in the environment (such as flowers and fruit) may serve a variety of functions. Humans like colours and therefore naturally want to find functions for them, often imposing our primate colour vision system on a non-primate world. We also forget that, compared to many other animals, we are relatively colour blind and therefore colours may be invisible to us or at least not easy to discriminated compared to other animals. The visual functions of colours essentially collapse into the various forms of sex, violence and defence necessary for survival. Colour may serve a dual purpose, for example, butterfly wing colours both frighten predators and attract a mate.

This talk examines questions such as: Is there such a thing as co-evolution of colours and colour vision, spectra and spectral sensitivity? How can many reef-fish and parrots be so, apparently, blindingly conspicuous? Which animals have the best colour vision? What is the similarity between a stomatopod and a satellite and what was the colour visual system of the first land vertebrate like? These and other questions will be half answered during this session and hopefully later in discussion.

  • Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
  • Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
  • Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, and Justin will be available to answer any questions.
  • Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or or Nelle (

Professor Justin Marshall obtained a PhD in Neurobiology from the University of Sussex in 1991 and is now a leader in  sensory systems based around ecology but also including physiology, anatomy, behaviour and neural integration at the Vision Ecology Lab at The University of Queensland. His work is widely recognised including over 100 journal and chapter publications and one edited book.  On a more public front Professor Marshall will take up Presidency of the Australian Coral Reef Society from May 2008, he oversaw the inception of “CoralWatch” ( one of the most widely used coral reef monitoring systems globally and his research has been reported through a range of media including broadsheet newspaper, documentary, TV science shows, radio and internet. See for further details.