Article 6 Module 2

Bali Myna

What are the main points?

  1. White color in nature is due to one of two primary elements:
    • reflection of white light off a disorganized mass of gas or air molecules. These molecules are held together in an transparent netting creating different sizes of packets of molecules. The different packets create a chaotic jumble of interfaces for light to reflect off in all directions. The result is white light reflected back to us.
    • A structural arrangement of fibers or molecules that creates multiple interfaces. Those prevent light from going through. White light is reflected back to us. 
  2. Often, in natural settings, objects have color. For example, a red flower or a brown fur coat. When the pigment is removed (growing the plant in the dark or during seasonal molting), the object appears white.   

Keep in mind that, in some cases, a combination of factors play a role. For example, for the Bali Mynah birds, the elements of air pockets and structural effects both play a role. This could be why the Mynah bird feathers are a deep and crisp white.

The whitest of whites

One of the whitest of white creatures is the a Southeast Asian beetle (Cyphocilus beetle). This beetle owes its whiteness to incredibly thin scales that cover its whole body.

What makes this particularly interesting that the scales are one tenth the width of a human hair; the filaments which make up the scales are randomly arranged. This allows for diffuse reflection of white light. 

Artificial material using the same concepts of the beetles scales are being developed. The hope is that producing white color will be cheaper and sustainable

One final thought

The whiter the color of the object means that there is a higher percentage of white light that is reflected back. The higher the percentage, the starker the whiteness. 

Objects that have spaces for light to hide in (like clouds) will have a softer white quality. Objects where the reflective surfaces are tightly connected and/or are highly reflective will have the whitest of white quality. 

Picture credits: 

  1. Randi Hausken. Balder 5, Balder running - 11 weeks old - Siberian husky. Flickr photo-sharing, taken on April 29, 2007.
  2. mk_is_here. Little White Bird (Bali Mynah). Flickr photosharing, taken on Jan 8, 2011.