Why Is Blue So Rare in Nature?

A blue 3D computer generation of a feline.

Why are there no blue tigers? Come to think of it, there are no blue rabbits or squirrels, either. You’ve probably never lost any sleep pondering these questions, but in case you’re just curious, we’ve got some answers for you! Molecular biologist and science writer Joe Hanson made this 2018 video as an episode in his series It’s Okay To Be Smart, a project of PBS Digital Studios.

Watch the video here.


1. Joe Hanson asserts that in order to understand why blue is such an unusual color for animals, we have to look at butterflies. Why are butterflies so important for understanding blue? Summarize the explanation. How difficult was it to give the summary? Were there points where you were unsure? If so, where? What, if anything, would you need to know in order for the explanation to have been more clear?

2. Hanson’s video attempts to explain a fairly complex physical phenomenon in a relatively short time to a general audience whose background knowledge of physics, biology, and chemistry can’t be assumed. No small task! What techniques and rhetorical strategies (in addition to a very corny joke) does the video employ? Identify all of the elements that contribute to making the video as accessible as possible; consider components such as illustrations, photos, and other visual elements, the tone of the narration, the narrators’ body language, the soundtrack, and any other features you consider relevant.

3. LET’S TALK. We think science videos are kind of wonderful, but they’re also a little frustrating sometimes since they often raise many more questions than those they answer. For example, near the beginning of the video, Hanson shows us a shiny blue beetle as an example of one of the few blue-colored animals. We found ourselves wondering: Might that beetle have worked just as well as the butterfly for demonstrating how blue can occur in animals? In other words, does that beetle share the same structural properties as the butterfly? Is it a good rhetorical strategy for a science video to open or suggest new questions? Or might it be be a better strategy to make sure there are no possible loose ends? Explore these two questions with a few classmates—what might be the advantages and disadvantages of those rhetorical strategies? (There’s no pressure here to come to any agreement; your goal is to explore thoroughly and openly?)

4. AND NOW WRITE. In your previous school experience, you’ve probably written a few reports of various kinds. Would any of them work well as a video? Choose a paper that you wrote for any class up to four years ago, and think about how it might be turned into a video. You don’t have to actually make the video; you’re just going to write up an outline and script for it—a storyboard, of sorts. Will you be the narrator? Someone else? Might you use animation in addition to live action? Instead of live action? (Since this will be an imaginary project, you can choose anyone.) Are there any images that you can use in order to convey your content more clearly? More succinctly? What will be a suitable location? Strolling in the park or on your campus? A busy street corner? What kinds of graphics might you like to use? Be as creative as you like, but remember that your goal is to present a solid and clear report with the same content as your original.

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