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Word of the Week: Iridescence
January 15, 2019 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Mallard Duck by Haya Aldoori

Iridescence [Ir-i-des-uh ns](noun): The phenomenon of certain surfaces that seem to change when seen from different angles.

Iridescence is not something that is difficult to find in nature! Maybe you’ve noticed the rainbow-hued shimmer, changing colour and brightness, on fish scales, bird feathers, or insect bodies? It can be truly mesmerizing!

Biologists have long debated the purpose of theses striking displays and why they are so widespread in nature. It has been suggested that iridescence plays a strong role in visual communication within species. It has also been suggested that the structures with this iridescent effect can help repel water, reduce friction, or regulate body temperature, with the pretty visuals coming only as a side effect. Another hypothesis is that for some organisms, iridescence is an anti-predator defense used to dazzle and confuse predators, with the hope of gaining a few precious moments to make an escape.

Clearly there are still some things that we don’t know about iridescence in nature, but what we do know is that when the sunlight shines down in that special way at that special angle to make nature’s colours shine so bright, it is a perfect moment that we can always enjoy.

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