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For many, the word iridescence conjures images of shiny jewellery, glittering seas, or sparkling diamonds. But it’s also a term that belongs in the animal kingdom. Creatures as diverse as insects, reptiles, birds and fish employ iridescence in a variety of ways, but we still don’t know for sure
what benefits this resplendence affords the animals themselves.

Download our full story PDF, including text, here.

Violet-Tailed sylph hummingbird (Aglaiocercus coelestis) flying to flower, Mindo Lomo,  Ecuador  -  Melvin Grey
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Melvin Grey / Violet-Tailed sylph hummingbird (Aglaiocercus coelestis) flying to flower, Mindo Lomo, Ecuador
Tarpon fish (Megalops atlanticus) head portrait,  East End, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies, Caribbean Sea.  -  Alex Mustard
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Alex Mustard / Tarpon fish (Megalops atlanticus) head portrait, East End, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies, Caribbean Sea.
Female emerald damselfly (Lestes sponsa) at rest. Studland Heath, Dorset, UK, July  -  Colin Varndell
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Colin Varndell / Female emerald damselfly (Lestes sponsa) at rest. Studland Heath, Dorset, UK, July
Pink abalone (Haliotis corrugata) shell detail, Guadalupe Island Biosphere Reserve, off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, January  -  Claudio Contreras
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Claudio Contreras / Pink abalone (Haliotis corrugata) shell detail, Guadalupe Island Biosphere Reserve, off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, January
Jewel beetle (Stigmodera gratiosa) feeding on Leptospermum flower. Endemic to Western Australia.Stirling Range NP, Western Australia. December.  -  Jiri Lochman
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Jiri Lochman / Jewel beetle (Stigmodera gratiosa) feeding on Leptospermum flower. Endemic to Western Australia.Stirling Range NP, Western Australia. December.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) male flying, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  -  Visuals Unlimited
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Visuals Unlimited / Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) male flying, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
A soap bubble floating in the air - colour refraction on surface  -  Kim Taylor
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Kim Taylor / A soap bubble floating in the air - colour refraction on surface
Peacock  (Pavo cristatus feather close up showing iridescence at 10x magnification  -  Paul  Harcourt Davies
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Paul Harcourt Davies / Peacock (Pavo cristatus feather close up showing iridescence at 10x magnification
Peacock  (Pavo cristatus feather close up showing iridescence at 10x magnification  -  Paul  Harcourt Davies
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Paul Harcourt Davies / Peacock (Pavo cristatus feather close up showing iridescence at 10x magnification
Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides showing iridescence with change of angle in relation to light source  -  Adrian Davies
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Adrian Davies / Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides showing iridescence with change of angle in relation to light source
Blue Spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata) showing iridescence through change of angle in relation to light source  -  Adrian Davies
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Adrian Davies / Blue Spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata) showing iridescence through change of angle in relation to light source
Golden green stag beetle (Lamprima sp.), adult male with big mandibles and a shiny iridescent coloration, Italy. Captive.  -  Emanuele Biggi
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Emanuele Biggi / Golden green stag beetle (Lamprima sp.), adult male with big mandibles and a shiny iridescent coloration, Italy. Captive.
Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) with light at angle where iridescence does not show. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tuscon, Arizona, USA, February.  -  Dr.  Axel Gebauer
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Dr. Axel Gebauer / Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) with light at angle where iridescence does not show. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tuscon, Arizona, USA, February.
Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) perched on branch showing iridescence.  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tuscon, Arizona, USA, Small repro only  -  Dr.  Axel Gebauer
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Dr. Axel Gebauer / Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) perched on branch showing iridescence. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tuscon, Arizona, USA, Small repro only
Bacteria (Lepthotryx discophora) causing iridescent patterns and White willow tree leaf (Salix alba) in river, Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, southern Spain, November.  -  Andres M. Dominguez
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Andres M. Dominguez / Bacteria (Lepthotryx discophora) causing iridescent patterns and White willow tree leaf (Salix alba) in river, Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, southern Spain, November.
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) flying at dawn. When backlit the tiny transparent barbs that make up the feather act like a prism revealing vivid colours in the early light. Monmouthshire, Wales...  -  Phil Savoie
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Phil Savoie / European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) flying at dawn. When backlit the tiny transparent barbs that make up the feather act like a prism revealing vivid colours in the early light. Monmouthshire, Wales...
Orb Weaver Spider (Araneidae) web detail, Socorro Island, Revillagigedo Archipelago Biosphere Reserve / Archipielago de Revillagigedo UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site (Socorro Islands), Pacific Ocea...  -  Claudio  Contreras
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Claudio Contreras / Orb Weaver Spider (Araneidae) web detail, Socorro Island, Revillagigedo Archipelago Biosphere Reserve / Archipielago de Revillagigedo UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site (Socorro Islands), Pacific Ocea...
Sugar crystals viewed by polarised light.  -  Kim Taylor
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Kim Taylor / Sugar crystals viewed by polarised light.
Congo Golden Mole (Calcochloris leucorhinus) on leaf litter on rainforest floor. Lokoue Bai, Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of Congo.  -  Jabruson
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Jabruson / Congo Golden Mole (Calcochloris leucorhinus) on leaf litter on rainforest floor. Lokoue Bai, Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of Congo.
Close up of irridescent gorget feathers of Anna's hummingbird {Calypte anna} USA  -  Shattil & Rozinski
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Shattil & Rozinski / Close up of irridescent gorget feathers of Anna's hummingbird {Calypte anna} USA
Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) at night with full moon,  double exposure, captive  -  Edwin Giesbers
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Edwin Giesbers / Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) at night with full moon, double exposure, captive
Black-blotched Porcupinefish (Diodon liturosus)  face, Indonesia.  -  Visuals Unlimited
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Visuals Unlimited / Black-blotched Porcupinefish (Diodon liturosus) face, Indonesia.
Male peacock (Pavo cristatus) displaying his ocellated tail feathers.  -  Paul D Stewart
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Paul D Stewart / Male peacock (Pavo cristatus) displaying his ocellated tail feathers.
Violet-tailed sylph hummingbird (Aglaiocercus coelestis) Mindo, Pichincha, Ecuador .  -  Lucas Bustamante
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Lucas Bustamante / Violet-tailed sylph hummingbird (Aglaiocercus coelestis) Mindo, Pichincha, Ecuador .
Splendid sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus) male perched on branch, West and Central Tropical Africa, Captive.  -  Rod Williams
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Rod Williams / Splendid sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus) male perched on branch, West and Central Tropical Africa, Captive.
Fiery throated hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) an endemic bird species. Talamanca Range, Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, Costa Rica.  -  Nick Hawkins
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Nick Hawkins / Fiery throated hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) an endemic bird species. Talamanca Range, Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, Costa Rica.
Violet-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) male perched in tree, Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba, Costa Rica, Central America.  -  Mary McDonald
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Mary McDonald / Violet-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) male perched in tree, Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba, Costa Rica, Central America.
Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus) on ground foraging for food, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, Africa, February  -  Guy Edwardes
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Guy Edwardes / Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus) on ground foraging for food, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, Africa, February
Brush bronzewing  (Phaps elegans) profile, Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria. Australia. Captive.  -  Roland  Seitre
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Roland Seitre / Brush bronzewing (Phaps elegans) profile, Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria. Australia. Captive.
New Zealand Pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) perched on moss cover stump, endemic to New Zealand.  Waikato, North Island, New Zealand, November.  -  Andy Trowbridge
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Andy Trowbridge / New Zealand Pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) perched on moss cover stump, endemic to New Zealand. Waikato, North Island, New Zealand, November.
Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) captive at Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.  -  Roland  Seitre
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Roland Seitre / Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) captive at Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.
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Ribbon tailed Astrapia Bird of Paradise (Astrapia mayeri) adult male with irridiscent plumage, Papua New Guinea  -  Tim Laman/Nat Geo Image Collection
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Tim Laman/Nat Geo Image Collection / Ribbon tailed Astrapia Bird of Paradise (Astrapia mayeri) adult male with irridiscent plumage, Papua New Guinea
Pygmy kingfisher (Ceyx picta) portrait, Cross River State, Nigeria. Non-ex  -  Cyril Ruoso
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Cyril Ruoso / Pygmy kingfisher (Ceyx picta) portrait, Cross River State, Nigeria. Non-ex
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Rock pigeon (Columba livia) portrait, Christchurch, New Zealand, April  -  Andrew Walmsley
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Andrew Walmsley / Rock pigeon (Columba livia) portrait, Christchurch, New Zealand, April
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) male swimming on a pond, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  -  Visuals Unlimited
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Visuals Unlimited / Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) male swimming on a pond, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Mountain peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) feather against black background.  -  Michael  D. Kern
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Michael D. Kern / Mountain peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) feather against black background.
Close up of feathers of cock Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).  -  Alex Hyde
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Alex Hyde / Close up of feathers of cock Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).
Close up of feathers of the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) native to islands of SE Asia and New Guinea region, captive  -  Tim Laman
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Tim Laman / Close up of feathers of the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) native to islands of SE Asia and New Guinea region, captive
Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) close up of feathers, captive, from Meso-America.  -  Roland  Seitre
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Roland Seitre / Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) close up of feathers, captive, from Meso-America.
Close up of a Peacock  (Pavo cristatus) feather barbs.  -  Georgette Douwma
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Georgette Douwma / Close up of a Peacock (Pavo cristatus) feather barbs.
Close-up of the eye of a Peacock feather. (Pavo cristatus)  -  Ashok Jain
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Ashok Jain / Close-up of the eye of a Peacock feather. (Pavo cristatus)
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Goldfish (Carassius auratus)  -  Kim Taylor
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Kim Taylor / Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) close to Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, Brazil  -  MYN / Martin Taylor
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MYN / Martin Taylor / Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) close to Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, Brazil
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Red Sea Clownfish (Amphiprion bicinctus) endemic, Red Sea.  -  Michael Pitts
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Michael Pitts / Red Sea Clownfish (Amphiprion bicinctus) endemic, Red Sea.
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