That brightly colored poison dart frog may be trying to tell you something.
Eat me and it will be your last meal.
Though beautiful, the frog’s color pattern serves as a warning to predators.
It is an example of the hidden language of color used in the animal world to attract a mate, threaten an enemy or hunt for food.
That language is the subject of “The Color of Life’ an imaginative exhibit opening Friday June 12 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Walking though the 8,000 square foot display—the biggest exhibit since the reopening of the academy in 2008– visitors will learn the story of how and why species use color to their advantage.
“Color of Life” informs through a combination of live animal displays, specimens from the academy’s collections and cutting edge computer graphics.
“Color is a great metaphor for talking about the diversity of life on earth,” said Jon Foley, the academy’s executive director.
“People love color, it’s attractive and exciting and it evokes emotion. It gets people thinking about diversity and sustainability and the evolution of life on earth which is our mission.”
Pluck a harp string on a color visualizer and the wrap around screen displays a color pattern and stories of related animal behavior. There more than 120 displays programmed into the system so it takes a while to see them all.
Elsewhere, a touch screen display magnifies photos of insects allowing the user to see minute details normally visible only through the most powerful of microscopes.
The device was developed for the academy by a Napa-based company and uses the technology commonly associated with Google maps
But the best attraction is a large video game in which players dance to match the mating moves of birds projected on a screen in front of them.
It’s likely to be a hit with kids and visitors to the academy’s Thursday night social programs said Kyla Bowling, the exhibit’s project manager. “It’s a little bit of science which is important but it’s also to have a little bit of fun,” she said.
The live animals on display and the science behind their colorful behavior are a key part of exhibit’s story. A cage containing Goldian Finches illustrates how color is used by the birds to determine compatibility with a mate.
Each finch has one of three different head feathers which signals its personality and genetic makeup, said Brenda Melton, curator of Steinhart Aquarium.
“If you are a red headed bird, you want to hang out with another red headed bird because you are more genetically compatible,” he said.
Snakes use color to help catch a meal. Young tree pythons are yellow because they hunt pretty close to the ground and need to blend in with the surroundings while waiting in ambush, Melton said.
As they grow older and begin to hunt birds in the forest canopy, they turn—you guessed it—green.
Cephalopods including octopuses and cuttlefish are nature’s best quick change artists. Octopuses change the color and even the texture of their skin as camouflage against predators or as a threat display when cornered.
A Hawaiian Day Octopus inhabits one tank in the exhibit and will later be replaced by the otherworldly looking cuttlefish which can flash pulsing colors at will, said Steinhart Aquarium director Bart Shepherd.
“They can flash brightly or be really subdued as well, Shepherd said. “It’s amazing.”
For more on the exhibit, visit: http://www.calacademy.org/exhibits/color-of-life