I’ve been delving into some of the fascinating posts about African wildlife on the wildlifetv blog, and found a couple about camouflage. The first, about the impala, gives some interesting facts (yes, you know I’m a sucker for interesting facts) about how they use their camouflage to avoid being seen, and a trickier protection: the ‘follow me’ stripes on the animals’ rumps allow animals in a a fleeing herd to follow one another stay together, but this also means that any one animal has a good chance that there’ll be one between it and the predator. A case of “I don’t have to run faster than it, I just have to run faster than you”.
The second is a series of photos of animals hiding in plain sight. I found this one fascinating, as I really had trouble seeing two of the animals (in my own defence, I was using a small laptop in a dark room: once I got back in my office with a large screen and a window, I found them). And here is where the lorikeets come in.
Rainbow lorikeets are, as you can see above, brightly coloured. In fact, their species name, haematodus, comes from the Latin word for blood, and is a reference to the rich red on the breast of the male (the female has more orange mottling into the red, as you can see above). They’re a member of the genus trichoglossus, which means “hairy tongue”, and the lorikeets do indeed have a brush-tipped tongue, which they use for extracting pollen and nectar from flowers.
You can find a great set of photos of lorikeets here – you’ll notice that they’re fairly bright, and if you check out this YouTube video, you’ll notice that they’re loud as well. In fact a flock of lorikeets feeding can be deafening – they shriek and squawk and chatter constantly, sometimes perching at the bouncing tips of branches or hanging upside down in order to reach a tasty flower, and then the whole flock will depart suddenly, shrieking cheerfully as they go.
So how can they be invisible? The Australian landscape is hardly composed of vivid reds, greens, yellows, and blues: in fact, if you had to pick one colour to describe Australia, it would be brown. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but a visitor could be forgiven for thinking Australian flora was composed using Essence of Drab.
But somehow, you can have a tree full of lorikeets and not be able to see a single bird. You can hear them, of course, but the birds manage to completely disappear in the grey-green, thin-leaved trees. Clearly, there must be an evolutionary advantage to being so colourful, given that the harsh sun does create diverse patterns of light and shade in the foliage.
Fortunately, these little charmers are quite plentiful, since they’re found just about everywhere there are flowering plants. And there’s nothing quite as cheery as having a flock of lorikeets feeding on a lilly pilly or red flowering gum in the backyard – it’s like having your own comedy troupe.