If we could see through you just like air
How would we know that you are there?
So, some animals use transparency
To become harder to see.
That’s a dancer kind of damselfly
Wings flash no color as it flies by.

Consider  …

  • discussing things that you cannot see – for example, they may be transparent, or very small, or camouflaged so that they cannot be distinguished from the background
  • suggesting that transparency may be a kind of camouflage
  • talk about the absence of color (should it be black or white or transparent) and that color has to come from something

Our eyes are drawn to the things that have strong and bright colors. But there are also many things that have almost no color.  The visible part of fungi are often colored, but the system of hyphal threads through which the fungi get hold of nutrients (see the  ‘Red’ helper page) usually has no colors. Tiny insects and worms are also colorless, as are most microbes. 

This damselfly is called a variable dancer (Argia fumipennis).  They have such lovely names.  This is a she, the male has a more purple body (he is on the  Violet’ helper page). While some damselflies and related dragonflies may have bright colors in their wings (see ‘Yellow helper page‘), most have colorless wings (can you find more examples .. there are four others that have transparent wings).  Flying animals are harder to spot, and have colorless wings which protect them a little from predators.  But, adding patches of color to the wings can also cause confusion.

Other features of damselflies and dragonflies include the large ball-like eyes that allow them to see things in all directions, and their spikey legs.  They catch other insects in flight, and use the legs to impale their prey.

The three here live in water
Clearly harder to be caught for
Someone’s breakfast delight –
Like the comb jelly to the right.

Now for three aquatic species.  This one is a comb jelly.  The formal name for a comb jelly is Ctenophore, should you wish to find out more. This one is Mnemiopsis (pronounced like knee-me-op-sis). They are marine. They have lines of flappy paddles that run from the top of the body. They catch the light in ways that make them look colorful, but they are really transparent.   It is another example of structural colors. There is not much organization in the body (no head, or real legs), and often they are treated as very like jellyfish.  They are not uncommon in the sea.  As you can tell, you are unlikely to see them; but if you go for a swim, you might just swallow one.  

Transparent krill

Trying to grab a see-through prawn;
A twist, a flick, and ‘Poof!’ it’s gone.

This is a kind of shrimp, but we do not know which one.  Shrimps are related to crabs and lobsters.  They are very common in the oceans.  They have lots of legs that they use not only to swim, but also to gather up small bits of food.  They can also flick their tails to move very quickly out of the way of anything that might try to eat them. Because there is very little color, these would be hard to see, especially in the upper parts of the sea where the sunlight flickers because it is broken up by waves. They would easily be overlooked by a fish looking for food.

See through glassy fish

Finally an animal by which is shown,
Fish have ribs and a backbone.

It is unusual to see a fish with very little color. This one is actually called an Indian Glassy Fish or X-Ray fish.  The scientific name is Parambassis. They are kept by fish enthusiasts. Because the tissue is so clear, you can see the spine that runs along the body and the ribs that stick out from spine.  The fins are also supported by tiny bones.  It does make you wonder where their tummies are. In fact, their entire digestive system is in the area just behind the head.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please add them below

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