When images of China's "rainbow mountains” went viral last week, we—like so many others—were entranced by the incredible colors of nature. But then we noticed the disclaimer: “There could be some slight photo manipulation going on to make the colors pop.”
After a little research, we realized this was definitely the case (compare the previous shots to these photos).
Still, we had been inspired and were determined to find the most jaw-dropping displays of color Mother Nature had to offer. After fishing around, we realized that not only is the natural world full of neon and jewel-toned hues, but also got a crash course in how these displays came to exist.
Of course, these incredible hues aren't just for aesthetics. You might recall the classic case of color in the animal kingdom: the male peacock, whose beautiful feathers are used to attract females. Still, animals use myriad shades for many other reasons, too. While cuttlefish change color rapidly to avoid predators and orange oak leaf butterflies are permanently camouflaged to blend into their habitat, other animals such as the cinnabar moth caterpillar and poison arrow frog flaunt bright shades as a warning sign to other creatures.
Plant species also put their colors to work, using their unique pigments to attract pollinators. Some species—such as plants in the phlox family–even change their hues based on which animals are present during a given time. For instance, researchers from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff found that the scarlet gilia shifted its shade of red to attract moths in one season and hummingbirds in another.
In animals, plants or natural features, vibrant colors can come from a variety of sources—their diet, minerals, bacteria, cellular structure, or simply a genetic ability to create a unique (and sometimes changing) display of pigmentation.
But even if the real story behind these brilliant hues is biological (that’s right—Mother Nature doesn’t flaunt her colors just for humans to enjoy), we can still seek out incredible displays for the joy, wonder and reverence they inspire. Take a look through our slideshow to see some of the most amazing shows of color in the natural world.
Petrified Wood: Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
This national park is known for its large deposits of petrified wood found over approximately 146 square miles. The colors of these fossils depend on the elements in the water or mud during the petrification process. For instance, the presence of manganese can create pink or orange hues, while cobalt will result in greens or blues.
Valley of Flowers National Park: Uttarakhand, India
Picture this: It's early morning as you make your way through a Himalayan meadow where orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, daisies and countless other wildflowers carpet the ground. In the distance, you hear the call of a Himalayan Mona Pheasant and, as you pause to soak in the scenery, you glance down and notice a pair of footprints in the loose dirt. A snow leopard walked this same path just hours earlier. Welcome to Valley of Flowers National Park, a location known for its rich diversity of endemic alpine flowers and as a home to numerous endangered plant and animal species.
Rainbow Eucalyptus: Throughout the Northern Hemisphere
The colors of the Rainbow Eucalyptus appear as the brownish-grey outer bark peels away each year. The bright green inner bark then turns blue, purple, orange and maroon as it matures. These fast-growing trees are common on tree plantations around the world. In the Phillippines, the Rainbow Eucalyptus is the species most commonly grown for pulpwood.
Germany will endure its longest stretch of cold weather so far this season.
Bitter cold and snow lashed Italy and the Balkan Peninsula during the first half of January, and more inclement weather is expected this week.
The river of moisture will return to the northwestern United States as more storms are set to deliver drenching rain and wintry travel hazards this week.
A long-duration ice storm in the Great Plains and Midwest claimed the life of at least six people.
The Australian Open coincides with the hottest time of the year in Melbourne, Australia, and this year is no exception.
After causing significant icing in the central United States, a storm will shift into the Northeast by Tuesday.
Over 30 people are dead after a Turkish cargo plane crashed in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, on Monday morning, local time.
The same storm system responsible for the ice storm in the central United States will trigger severe and flooding thunderstorms in parts of Texas and Oklahoma to end this weekend.