Rainbow nature: the most colourful creatures

Explore the stories behind the Fantastic Beasts™: The Wonder of Nature exhibition. Meet some of the brightest and boldest creatures on our planet.

The Natural History Museum

Asterope butterfliesThe Natural History Museum

Colour: a method of finding a mate, a cue that danger is near, and a vital clue in the search for food.

Peacock SpiderThe Natural History Museum

Multi-coloured
Peacock spider (Maratus volans)

Glittering blues, greens, oranges and yellows shine from the small body of the peacock spider.

Dozens of species of peacock spider are known, and it is likely that there are still more to be found.

Their bright colours are part of their strategy to impress potential mates. Males flash their colourful bodies and perform an elaborate dance (just like the magical Erumpent) in the hope of winning a mate, strutting back and forth and waving their legs.

It is a bold undertaking that can go horribly wrong: if the female is unimpressed, they eat their potential suitor.

Monarch butterflyThe Natural History Museum

Orange
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The monarch butterfly has bright orange and black stripes, which warns predators that it's dangerous to eat. But its most distinctive feature is probably the mass migration it undertakes.

Every year, millions of monarchs migrate from eastern Canada to the forests of central Mexico where they spend the winter. Their numbers aren't what they once were. Populations have declined by 90% over the past two decades, due to habitat loss.

In 1996 to 19997, orange monarchs blanketed around 18 hectares (45 acres) of Mexican forest, whereas in 2013 to 2014 they covered just over half a hectare (1.5 acres).

Monarch numbers rose slightly in 2014 to 2015 and again in 2015 to 2016, to cover 4 hectares (10 acres) of forest, but conservationists warn it's not enough to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Satin bowerbirdThe Natural History Museum

Blue
Satin bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus)

Feathers, flowers, shells – even buttons and bottle tops – feature in this bird's treasure trove.

While it's not known why Nifflers are driven to collect sparkly objects, satin bowerbirds collect things to attract a mate. Males gather colourful objects to decorate their bower, a tunnel-like structure made from sticks. When a female appears, the male performs a dance while holding a favourite object in its beak.

Satin bowerbird nestThe Natural History Museum

Blue objects are particularly popular with satin bowerbirds. As blue is a rare colour in nature, this suggests that males who find lots of blue objects are perceived to be skilled, good-quality mates.

Satin bowerbirds are found in the forests of eastern Australia.

OkapiThe Natural History Museum

Black and white
Okapi (Okapia johnstoni)

Like the Mooncalves of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them™, this shy animal is well-adapted to avoiding predators including leopards and people.

Okapis' zebra-like markings help camouflage them among dense, shadowy forests, and their sharp hearing keeps them alert to approaching threats.

Okapis are difficult to spot in the wild.

MagpieThe Natural History Museum

Eurasian magpie (Pica pica)

Just like Nifflers, magpies are well-known for liking shiny objects. But did you know that magpies themselves are also shiny? Their glossy black feathers take on an iridescent violet or green sheen when viewed from certain angles.

These characterful birds are the only non-mammals known to be able to recognise themselves in the mirror, though several other members of the crow family are extraordinarily intelligent.

Magpies and other family members such as ravens have highly developed social intelligence, including the ability to predict the behaviour of other members of their species. They also show complex behaviours relating to their food, such as storage and even the ability to cut food into smaller portions for their young.

Dragon's blood resinThe Natural History Museum

Red
Dragon’s blood

This dark red resin - a sticky substance collected from the bark of Socotra dragon trees (Dracaena cinnabari) - was once believed to be the blood lost by a dragon during a fight with an elephant.

It is used in traditional medicine around the world, particularly for treating skin conditions and healing wounds.

Red-billed oxpeckerThe Natural History Museum

Red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Magical Bowtruckles protect the trees they live in and gain a safe home in return. In a similar way, the red-billed oxpecker feeds on the parasites found on large grazing animals such as rhinos. While the bird gets a good meal, its host benefits from the removal of blood-sucking ticks, as well as a handy alarm system.

Black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (1836/1837) by William Cornwallis HarrisThe Natural History Museum

If an oxpecker spots a predator, such as a human, approaching, it flies off making a shrill alarm call that rhinos and other animals have learned to respond to.

Oxpecker alarms are not enough to defend against poachers however. Between 1970 and 1992, black rhino (Diceros bicornis) populations decreased by 96%, mainly due to illegal hunting for their horns.

ChameleonThe Natural History Museum

Green
Common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

While it's not possible for real-world animals to become invisible in the same way that the magical Demiguise can, they can use extraordinary methods of camouflage to make themselves extremely difficult to spot.

Chameleons are well-known for their colour-changing abilities. However, they usually only make small adjustments to the shade of their green or brown skin. Green is the perfect colour for a chameleon to live a camouflaged life in the treetops.

Research shows that the bursts of red, orange and yellow seen in some chameleons are used to attract mates or scare off rivals rather than to help them hide.

Pale throated slothThe Natural History Museum

Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus)

Although sloths are often cited as the only green mammal, they are not truly green: their fur is coloured by algae that are hitching a lift.

Specially adapted grooves or irregular cracks in the structure of the strands in a sloth's long fur allow algae to cling to its body.

Pale throated slothThe Natural History Museum

The relationship may be mutually beneficial. Scientists think the algae help to camouflage the sloth in its treetop home, and in return the fur provides shelter and easy access to water for the algae.

The animal's body becomes a small ecosystem, hosting a variety of insects that thrive among the algae.

KākāpōThe Natural History Museum

Kākāpō (Strigops habroptila)

The kākāpō is a flightless nocturnal parrot with moss-green feathers speckled with yellow and black on its back. It was once found all over New Zealand but today only a small population remains.

The kākāpō came close to extinction in the late twentieth century. This followed years of hunting by people and the cats, rats and stoats introduced to the islands.

KākāpōThe Natural History Museum

In the same way Newt Scamander™ cares for and protects fantastic beasts that are threatened, conservationists did the same in the 1980s when they moved all remaining kākāpō birds to predator-free reserves, launching an intensive breeding programme to help save the species.

Credits: Story

For more information and to book tickets to the exhibition, visit the Museum's website.

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WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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