Some colors say ‘Beware!’
A lot of contrast especially where
Red, black, white, and yellow combine;
For example, the coral snake’s design
Among the most venomous anywhere,
So pay attention and take care.

You can use this part of the book to…

  • talk about warning signs and the wisdom of being cautious
  • learn about some organisms, hornets, coral snakes, yew trees, and lion fish

The first example is the coral snake.  It has very striking banded colors.  It is not just that the colors are contrasty and in bands, but the  colors are often used by organisms that are dangerous.  A combination of red / black / white / yellow is used by caterpillars and adult insects, by frogs,  snakes, and some fish.  The uise of warning colors is referred to as ‘Aposematic’.   Consider it to be the opposite of camouflage. They are warning you not to mess with them. Anyone who has upset a hornet will understand.   Aposematic coloring is common enough that some snakes that are not dangerous use the same pattern to  frighten possible predators.  

Bald faced hornet on watch at the entrance to her nest
Yellow jacket hornet

Also stinging hornets and bees
Use contrasting colors like these
To warn us, simply stated,
Leave me alone or you’ll regret it.

Two closely related insects, both with ‘aposematic’ coloration. A bald-faced hornet with black and white colors, and a yellow jacket with yellow and black colors.  Baldy is at the opening of her nest, watching for anyone who gets too close.  They are very aggressive defenders of their own space.  The yellow-jacket has a much more familiar black/yellow pattern also found in many bees.

Yew tree fruit

Bright red berries of a yew tree
Purpose, to attract birds, maybe;
But also perhaps to warn us
Nuts and leaves are poisonous.

Yew trees are often impressive: grand, noble, and dark.  But they are very poisonous if eaten.  The red color may be seen as a warning – the nut is especially poisonous.  Oddly, the only part that is not poisonous is the flesh of the fruit. It is (they tell us) fairly sweet.  Maybe, then, the red color is to attract animals (birds, badgers) that can digest the fleshy part of the fruit and not be affected by the poison in the nut.

Red lion fish

The lion fish is another deadly guy, 
With contrasting colors to notify
Possible predators that might eat it
To just turn around and beat it.

Lionfish (Pterios) are included because they are  dangerous.  A bit of a surprise, perhaps, that some are said to make excellent eating. But, the poison is not in the flesh, but in the spines.

If you have more ideas, please let us know below.

Caterpillar Danaus plexippus
Nature Reader colors web Warn

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