On the blue coloration of vertebrates†

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Although the various vertebrate classes, from fishes to mammals are each distinctive, they possess many common features making it important to understand their comparative biology. One general feature that has long commanded interest is the integumental pigmentary system. Thus, much is known about particular pigment cells; however, the basis for some specific colors, such as blue, has escaped the scrutiny of the comparative approach. Regardless of Class, blue is almost always a structural color based upon incoherent or coherent scatter of blue wavelengths from the animal surface. The source of scatter may be intracellular or extra-cellular. A main intracellular scatterer is the surface of reflecting platelets of iridophores of lower vertebrates. Extra-cellular scatter is widespread and thought to occur from ordered dermal collagen arrays in primitive fishes, birds and mammals including humans. Among birds, feather structures provide major means for extra-cellular light scatter. There is only one known example of blue color deriving from a blue pigment found within a pigment cell. For amphibians, reptiles and birds, the scatter of blue wavelengths, together with the presence of yellow pigmentation, is fundamental for the expression of green coloration.

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