Of fruits and frugivores: How fruits colour themselves to attract animals

The Hindu has published an article showing the connection between how colourful fruits are in an area and the visual capacity of the frugivores consuming that fruit.

The article is here:


It start’s off:

“The colour of the fruit depends primarily on the visual capacity of the local seed dispersing animals

Ever wondered why certain fruits are red and some green? Well, you are not alone. This question has puzzled scientists for many years and now a team of researchers from Germany, Canada and Madagascar have a simple answer — to attract animals. The colour of the fruit depends primarily on the visual capacity of the local seed dispersing animals.”

This research points towards a fact that we already know.  Our colour vision is related to our history of eating fruit. 

Human’s primarily locate our food visually.  This is why we would be terrible carnivores or omnivores.  Animals have no desire to be eaten and hide and camouflage themselves in the jungle.  Hunting is a difficult process for humans as we are not equipped for it in any way.

Fruit on the other hands wants to be eaten and therefore stands out to those animals it wants to be eaten by.  As we scan a forest area with our eyesight we can immediately pick out the different hues of flowers, berries and other fruits.  They are easy to find.

Have you ever went foraging for fruit? 

It is almost like an unused muscle in your brain switches on and goes into overdrive.  The quickness and speed of the eyes and out ability to calculate the location, quality, size and ripeness of particular fruits is quite exceptional.

The ease with which we can shake a tree to get the fruits to fall or simply reach up and climb the tree to pick the fruits off is obvious.  It shows that we are perfectly suited to find and collect fruit.  When we add this to the design of our digestive system and how easily we digest fruits it is hard to argue that we are not matched most closely with a classification of frugivore.

Imagine trying to find those fruits without colour vision.  It would be almost impossible.  Or how about trying to pick them and eat them without hands to open them?  Also very difficult, and virtually impossible.

The article finishes, with an interesting point:

“The researchers also found that in both Uganda and Madagascar, fruit species that rely on bird seed dispersal tend to be redder while those which specialise on primate seed dispersal are greener. “This may be explained by the fact that primates possess an excellent sense of smell and their heavier reliance on fruit scent means that, on an average, fruits need to invest less in visual signals,” explains Dr. Omer Nevo, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Ulm, Germany, and one of the authors of the paper.”

Certainly, it would be easy for us to find a Durian in the trees through smell alone, bananas also have a strong smell when ripening.

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