All Things Bright

Creatures that camouflage themselves in the dirt may be concealed from predators, but they’re unlikely to get much conservation support from the public. According to a study in Animal Conservation, young people place a higher priority on protecting colorful, showy critters than animals that blend into their surroundings.

Past research has shown that people prefer to conserve animals that are beautiful and exotic. Bugs are generally low on the list, as are animals that can be found locally. “Such a disconnection is probably responsible for paradoxical attitudes and behaviour, such as the abuses of pesticides in people’s gardens who would otherwise consider themselves concerned by the decline of tigers in the wild,” the study authors write.

The team wanted to find out if a species’ coloring also played a role. Since people often form their feelings about the environment when they’re young, the researchers surveyed 268 ten- to 20-year-old students.

The students were split into two groups and shown pictures of six animals with colorful or contrasting markings and six inconspicuous animals. Then the researchers showed each group the same images that the other group had seen — but the pictures had been Photoshopped so that showy animals now looked drab, and vice versa. For each species, the kids rated how important it was to protect that animal.

The students supported protecting the showy creatures more than the inconspicuous ones, the team reports. Willingness to protect a species also dropped when an animal’s eye-catching colors or patterns were Photoshopped out. So conservation campaigns could gain more public support by highlighting flashy species. But less striking animals might still be displayed to better advantage in front of a colored backdrop, the authors suggest. Roberta Kwok | 23 January 2013

Source: Prokop, P. and J. Fancovicova. 2013. Does colour matter? The influence of animal warning coloration on human emotions and willingness to protect them. Animal Conservation doi: 10.1111/acv.12014.

Image © Yeko Photo Studio |



  • tom January 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Good grief! The “researchers” conclusions are so blindingly predictable as to be laughable. What a huge waste of time! It has been known for many years that the stupid public is only interested in “cute” or dramatic species and are hardly even aware of other creatures.


    • roberta January 24, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comment. The authors do acknowledge the previous research on this topic, noting that “animals with a higher perceived aesthetic value (Kellert, 1996; Knight, 2008; Veríssimo et al., 2009) are preferred over local animal species and/or over animals with a lower perceived aesthetic value” and “Independent researchers have determined that the perceived aesthetic of animals plays an important role in public support for animal conservation.” But they say that “To date, however, the role of animal coloration and morphology in conservation support has not been untangled.”



  • Daniel January 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

    I didn’t want it to put so drastically, but I agree. This “study” should have been published in the Journal of Duh.


  • Mattias Wieland February 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Whilst this is not a surprising finding, I disagree that it is a waste of time. Science is exactly about putting the hard facts behind certain perceptions, to either confirm or challenge them. Thanks to this study we have hard evidence that strong colours in particular increase the interest of the general public in conservation. Therefore, conservation can put more focus on this aspect with more certainty than previously, where it was just assumed but not known whether this effect existed. Thats no waste of time at all.


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