Hello Whimsical Science readers, my name is Natalia and I try to write on my own blog, Natalia Does Science (https://natdoesscience.wordpress.com/). I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and I will hopefully be a Master of Science this year as well. My good and very dear and best friend Connie asked me if I’d like to contribute to Whimsical Science, and I said sure! And then time went by and now here I am, writing stuff. I don’t really have a background in anime per say, but I do really enjoy researching new topics and learning new things, so, whatever I write should be interesting to say the least. With that, let me get into my first post.
Awhile back, there was a post here on evolution and Oricorios. In it, they were used as an almost-analog to Darwin’s finches to help explain the genetic component of evolution. However, the nectar aspect of the Oricorio typing was not discussed, and the nectar is what I find most interesting. One of my interests in biology is how and why animals are colored the way they are, and what the coloration signals to members of the same species. Coloration comes from four means, and animals can have just use one, or a combination of them. Here’s a convenient list of them!
1) Pigments: Colored chemicals that an animal can make themselves or need to ingest from an outside source (think hair, skin, feathers sometimes, scales)
2) Chromatophores: Special cells that contain pigment that can change size, and by changing size, changes the color and pattern of the animal (think cuttlefish, squid, octopi, chameleons)
3) Structure: Super tiny structures (think scales on a butterfly wing or feather barb) that can bend visible light at different angles so we can see a color(s)
4) Bioluminescence: The production of light through light producing cells called photophores (basically glow in the dark animals like the weird deep-sea fishes)
The type of coloration I’m going to focus on with the Oricorios is pigment based for the most part, focusing on the ingesting of pigments. The Sensu Style Oricorio kind of throws a wrench in my easy explanation for reasons I’ll get into at the end of this post. As previously mentioned before on this blog Pokémon was not designed by scientists, so keep that in mind as I blather on about pigment. In the real world, many of the colorful species of birds gain those colors from their diet. Specifically, from a pigment molecule called the carotenoid. Carotenoids are pigments that are red or yellow (and can combine to make orange) in appearance and are produced by plants.
The Northern Flicker, a type of woodpecker is an excellent example to view differences in carotenoid use in a single species. In the western portion of North America, the Northern Flicker has red in its tail and wing feathers, while on the eastern portion of North America, the flicker has yellow in its tail and wing feathers. The difference in feather coloration of the two groups is likely due to different carotenoids in their diet.
By eating enough carotenoids (whether it be from berries or insects that contain carotenoids from eating plants), birds can deposit these pigments in newly growing feathers to color them. At face value, this seems like a reasonable idea for how the Pom-Pom, Pa’u, and Baile Style Oriocrios gain their different colors since by consuming nectar from different flowers, their feather colors change. Real world nectar is not known to be a source of pigment molecules, but the Alolan Islands seem to prove contrary to this.
The Pom-Pom style Oriocorio uses yellow carotenoids deposited at different levels to give it the bright yellow feather accents and pale yellow body. The white pants are a result of no deposition of colored pigments.
Let’s start on Melemele Island with the Pom-Pom Style Oricorio with it’s diet of yellow nectar. Pom-Pom has the simplest coloration of the four Oricorios. Their yellow body is the result of yellow carotenoid molecules. In the real world, yellow carotenoids are the most commonly available to birds. The differences in the shades of yellow is the result of different levels of deposition. The more intense the yellow, the greater the amount of carotenoids deposited.
The Baile Style Oricorio uses red carotenoid pigments and black melanin pigments to color its feathers. The white cap on its head is a result of no deposition of colored pigments.
But, what would happen if you took your Pom-Pom Style Oricorio away from the flowers on Melemele and fed them nectars from flowers on Ula’ula? They would “molt out” to become the Baile Style Oriocorio. Red carotenoids in the real world are a more coveted resource since they’re rarer than yellow in nature, making red a slightly harder color to achieve. The black feathers are another point of interest. Black pigment isn’t from something that gets eaten, it’s made from the animal (or in this case Pokemon themselves). The blacks, browns, and greys we see are from pigment molecules called melanin. Melanin is made from amino acids in special cells called melanocytes.
Like the Baile Style Oricorio, the Pa’u Style also uses red carotenoids for coloration. However, they are deposited in feathers in lower concentrations which leads to light pink and the dark pink on the bird.
Let’s take the Baile Style Oricorio to Akala Island and feed it nectar from those flowers. The basis of coloration is still red carotenoids, but now we have the pink Pa’u Style Oricorio. The pink is a result of a lower deposition of a mix of two carotenoids in the feathers, which still gives a rosy hue but not one as intense as the red Baile Style. An alternative to carotenoid based coloration here could be another type of pigment molecule called poryphorins. Like melanin, poryphorins are made by altering amino acids. They are known to be responsible for pink, browns, reds, and greens. The nest for this would be to grab a black light and hold a Pa’u Style feather under it. If it glow bright red, then the coloration is poryphorin based, if not then it is likely carotenoid based.
The Sensu Style Oriocorio doesn’t have have the typical pigment based coloration like the other Oricorios. The blues and purples are a result of the microstructures, air, and light interacting.
Let’s go to Poni Island and feed the Pa’u Style some nectar there and….crap. The elephant in the room: Sensu Style (aka the reason why I can’t make reasonable explanations). Most blue and/or purple animals you see aren’t because of a blue/purple pigment molecule (in fact there is only one known case of a true blue pigment molecule and that’s in a fish). Blue and purple (as well as many other colors) are a result of structural coloration. Maybe the nectar on Poni Island is contains compounds that alter the structure of the feathers and melanin deposition. But, that would be more of a feather genetics/feather structure tangent which could be its own post entirely.
How does blue? In the case of this Indigo Bunting, light shines from the sun and hits the feather. The feather is made up of a structural protein layer, a layer of the structural protein and air mixing, and a layer of black melanin. The red, orange, yellow, green, and purple light is absorbed by the black melanin layer, but the blue light is refracted out to our eyes by the protein/air layer which gives the bird the blue hue.
Feathers can come in many shapes and sizes and functions. There can be a lot of feather variation within a species that can make individuals look drastically different, when in reality it’s just different genes getting turned on and off. In regards to the Oricorios, maybe the nectar contains (in addition in pigment molecules) different chemical compounds that are able to change which genes are active/inactive which causes the changes in feather forms between the islands but still preserves the basic body form.
Pigeons are an excellent example of the same species looking different. Besides breeding pigeons for different colors, they also breed them for different looking feathers. The left pigeon has typical looking feathers other than being diluted looking, no fancy curls or longer feathers or growing upwards. The bird on the right is called an Old Dutch Capuchine pigeon- it has a mutation to one of its genes that causes the bird to have a “mane” of feathers like a lion. Both birds are still capable of interbreeding, but through the mutation of one gene we can have two different looking birds.
The genetics of feathers and feather expression isn’t really something I’m familiar with, but if anyone would like to read a feather post like that, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do some research to make a new post that covers even more bird Pokemon with a wide variety of feather shapes (or I’ll just do it on my own because now I’m kind of interested). If anyone has any questions, opinions, or suggestions, leave a comment and we can chat about it! Find me on twitter @NatDoesScience for more science content if you’re interested!