Friday, October 14, 2011

The Monarch on the Aster Redux

I wrote the following haiku piece week.

"Yesterday I was startled by a vividly colored Monarch butterfly feeding at our equally intense Autumn Aster. But it wasn’t the sudden proximity of a large-winged insect that jolted me. It was instead the jarring juxtaposition of coloration.

"Little did I realize that I was witnessing what haute couture critics are calling, 'Fashion's coolest clash…

"'Thanks to Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg – Kim Kardashian, Cheryl Cole and Jessica Alba have all been rocking the look on the red carpet in recent weeks.'”

The Monarch on the Aster

Orange on purple –
is it real color blocking
if it’s natural?

At that time I was unaware that “color blocking” was much, much more than simply combining violently clashing hues. And that butterflies actually CAN see in color. Apparently everyone and everything involved really know what they are doing.

“Color blocking is a styling technique that hasn’t quite been picked up by the masses. It involves some knowledge of the color wheel and a bit of bravery. The main idea is combining different colors that support and compliment each other.”

Most of us are familiar with the Color Wheel from some introductory Art class that we took way back when. There are the primary colors – red, blue and yellow; secondary colors– green, orange and purple – which result from the combination of primary ones; and tertiary colors that are the products of yet further mixing.
Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors are directly opposite one another. Either of these categories of colors are good combinations.

The purple/orange combo exhibited above by Kim Kardashian, Cheryl Cole or Jessica Alba (or whoever that is), and by the monarch butterfly on the aster are both pretty darn close to the complementary color guideline.

So apparently Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg were not totally tripping on some manmade substance when they pushed their color clashing mannequins onto the red carpet. As are the FedEx corporation and the Memphis University Tigers. Although I might question MU’s choice of mascot. Maybe even the orange and black Danaus plexippus knew what it was doing.

Butterflies it seems can see the entire range of colors that humans can – plus they see ultraviolet colors – colors with wavelengths shorter than that of violet, well beyond the wavelengths that we humans can see – with a correspondingly more complex wheel. It is at least one of the methods they use to tell them where the nectar is.

This is similar to the superior sense of smell that dogs have relative to us humans. Canines have about 25 times more olfactory receptors than humans and, as a result, can detect odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can. For example a dog can detect one drop of blood diluted by five quarts of water.

When conducting searches we people have learned to trust the snout of the bloodhound more than the sight of even the most skilled humanoid tracker. So I guess if the apparent clash of orange on purple is okay with the butterflies – then it should be good enough for the rest of us.

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