Dazzling displays: how movement affects perception of iridescence and gloss
About the pitch
Some the most spectacular visual effects in nature are those that change with movement. Think of Australia’s amazing stag beetles (sometimes called Christmas beetles) found during summer that change in colour depending on the angle you look at them. Or perhaps you have been lucky enough to see one of the Christmas beetles that looks like a tiny golden mirror, reflecting its surroundings. How can these stunning animals exist? If they are so obvious to us, wouldn’t predators find them easily? Here’s your chance to be involved and answer this question!
Together, we will work out whether these changeable colours can help an animal escape attack. This may seem counterintuitive, but a long-standing prediction is that the changeable nature of the colours confuses the eye and makes it harder for a predator to localise prey. We will test this idea by creating differently coloured artificial prey and using eye-tracking technology to see if human “predators” (you!) find it harder to track and capture changeable prey. I will also conduct experiments using preying mantids to see if the results are similar. These experiments will shed light on why many Australian animals have brilliant, changeable colours.
Meet the Speaker
Dr Amanda Franklin is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne investigating animal visual systems and animal colour patterns. She is fascinated by the fact that different animals see the world completely differently to how we do. Her research investigates what animals can see and how this relates to the tasks they must complete (e.g. finding food or mates). This includes using our knowledge about animal vision to research the function of animal colours (such as iridescence or gloss). Currently, her research focuses on Australian beetles, which have very diverse visual systems and a stunning variation in appearance.
Amanda completed her PhD at Tufts University in Boston as a Fulbright Science and Technology Fellow. Here, she researched visual communication and camouflage in the weird and wonderful mantis shrimp. Her research showed that mantis shrimp use colour to signal fighting ability during contests. After her PhD, Amanda returned to Australia and worked outside of academia as a data scientist at the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority. At the EPA, she developed analytical techniques to monitor pollution events. Throughout her career, Amanda has loved learning about Australia’s invertebrates - because there is always a weird or amazing new invertebrate to discover!