All Things Bright

Creatures that camouflage themselves in the dirt may be concealed from predators, but they’re unlikely to get much conservation support from the public. According to a study in Animal Conservation, young people place a higher priority on protecting colorful, showy critters than animals that blend into their surroundings.

Past research has shown that people prefer to conserve animals that are beautiful and exotic. Bugs are generally low on the list, as are animals that can be found locally. “Such a disconnection is probably responsible for paradoxical attitudes and behaviour, such as the abuses of pesticides in people’s gardens who would otherwise consider themselves concerned by the decline of tigers in the wild,” the study authors write.

The team wanted to find out if a species’ coloring also played a role. Since people often form their feelings about the environment when they’re young, the researchers surveyed 268 ten- to 20-year-old students.

The students were split into two groups and shown pictures of six animals with colorful or contrasting markings and six inconspicuous animals. Then the researchers showed each group the same images that the other group had seen — but the pictures had been Photoshopped so that showy animals now looked drab, and vice versa. For each species, the kids rated how important it was to protect that animal.

The students supported protecting the showy creatures more than the inconspicuous ones, the team reports. Willingness to protect a species also dropped when an animal’s eye-catching colors or patterns were Photoshopped out. So conservation campaigns could gain more public support by highlighting flashy species. But less striking animals might still be displayed to better advantage in front of a colored backdrop, the authors suggest. Roberta Kwok | 23 January 2013

Source: Prokop, P. and J. Fancovicova. 2013. Does colour matter? The influence of animal warning coloration on human emotions and willingness to protect them. Animal Conservation doi: 10.1111/acv.12014.

Image © Yeko Photo Studio |