Potential Basis of Coloration in Oricorio Feathers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Kinetics, Part 1

This is part one of two posts that explain the kinetics of chemical reactions. We’re posting this a little out of order than the traditional order, but we still hope you find it informative! This will be organized into our formal listing of chemistry concepts once we reach that point in the semester. -WS Team

Kinetics, Catalysts, and Philosopher Stones, OH MY! Part 1- James B.

Enzymes and catalysts are important in organic and biochemical reactions. However, the study of kinetics is integral to understanding how they work.

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Imagine that you are an alchemist who wants to make diamond from graphite, how would you go about it? In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist, Alchemy takes 3 steps; analysis, destruction and reconstruction. Let’s go through each of these steps and see where this thought experiment takes us.

Step 1: Analysis

Graphite and Diamond are both made up of carbon. The main difference between them are the arrangement of the bonds between the carbon atoms. Graphite is made up of sheets of hexagonal rings with alternating double and single bonds. These sheets are weakly held together by what are known as Van der Waals forces.

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(Image Credit: Wikipedia. Three sheets of carbon arranged in hexagon structures are separated out to demonstrate the layering of graphite)

Diamond, on the other hand, has each carbon bonded to 4 other carbon atoms in a tetrahedral structure. There are also no double bonds. It is this change in structure that changes graphite, (which is quite soft) to diamond, which is the hardest naturally occurring substance.

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(2 Image Credit: University of Wisconsin- Carbon arranged in blocks, known as the tetrahedral form)
Step 2: Destruction

This step is self-explanatory; we must break some of the bonds in the graphite sheets. To turn graphite into diamond, we must break the double bonds.

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Step 3: Reconstruction

After the double bonds are broken, single bonds are formed with carbon atoms in adjacent sheets. This turns the planar sheets into a tetrahedral lattice.

Of course, this process takes energy. We can graph the use of this energy as the transformation progresses. This can tell us a lot about the transformation. Here is what it looks like:

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Graph:  A graph of Graphite to diamond transmutation. Time can be found on the X axis, and Energy on the Y axis. The energy is in Joules but the exact values don’t matter for this illustration.  

As we can see, energy was expended when breaking the bonds, and energy was released when forming them. When the transmutation reaches its end, we see that it’s at a higher energy than at the beginning. This is because graphite is more stable at standard temperature (22⁰C) and pressure (1 atmosphere) than diamond.

If we were to try to turn diamond back to graphite [basically reversing our graph], we would have some excess energy at the end of the transmutation. Because of this excess energy, transmuting diamond into graphite should be faster than transmuting graphite to diamond. We could make it even faster if we could lower the energy it takes to break the bonds (Philosopher’s stone, anyone?).

Herein  lies the heart of the study of kinetics: Kinetics is all about the rates of chemical reactions and what factors speed up or slow down the reactions. Graphs like the one that we generated for the graphite to diamond transmutation are key in exploring those factors. Let’s look at a few of them and see what they can tell us about their respective reactions:

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Graph: Time can be found on the X axis in seconds, and energy on the Y axis in joules. The curve increases from 10 joules at the start of the transmutation or reaction, increases to 25 joules, and ends at about 15 joules.

For this reaction, the reactants have 10 joules of free energy. This means in their ground state, or most relaxed state, they have an inherent energy of 10 joules. If we move later in time, we see the graph peak a little over 25 joules. This is the energy of activation. This tells us the minimum amount of energy we must add to the system to run the reaction. In this hypothetical case, we must add about 15 joules of energy to our products to start the reaction. Once the reaction is complete (past our energy of activation), it has released approximately 10 joules of energy; we have a net loss of 5 joules. In this case the reaction is what is known as endothermic. This means that it absorbs energy. Endothermic processes are relatively slow and are usually done under elevated temperatures. Now, let’s look at an exothermic reaction.

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Graph: Time can be found on the X axis, and energy in joules on the Y axis. The graph shows an initial energy of 15 joules, increasing to 25 joules, and ending at 5 joules.

We start at 14 joules of energy, have an energy of activation of 25 joules of energy, and end at 5 joules of energy. So, there is a net gain of 9 joules of energy. This extra energy is released into the environment as heat. Hence the name exothermic. These reactions happen quickly and are usually spontaneous.

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This last graph gives us a reaction that is identical to our previous  graph in all but one aspect: the energy of activation is about 5 joules lower. That would make this reaction faster than the reaction of graph 2.

So what have we learned so far? Mostly that transmutation and the re-arrangement of atoms is a lot more complicated than Ed makes it seem! The speed of the breakdown and rebuilding of bonds vary depending on what it is you aim to do; we don’t necessarily see this in the manga or the show. Are there ways of speeding up a reaction? Of course! We’ll cover these methods later.

SPACE AND WHY IT’S AWESOME- STEM at Conventions

Although there weren’t any Whimsical Science panels at Connecticon 2017, it allowed for some pretty relaxed enjoyment of other panels on display. One of our favorite groups of panelists here at WS is the creative team behind Starpower- Michael “Mookie” Terracciano and Garth Graham. Typically, we’re pushing people out of the way to get into their creative panels; they’ve got this excellent way of presenting and teaching the arts that leaves attendees with not only tears streaming down their face from laughing, but with concrete, applicable lessons to boost any creative project. This meant, when it came to a panel called “SPACE AND WHY IT’S AWESOME”, we hauled butt through the convention center to snag seats.

Finding panels that bridge the gap between people with no knowledge and people with some knowledge to potentially people with ALL THE KNOWLEDGE is pretty rare. At fandom/comic/sci-fi/anime/general geekery conventions, it’s even more rare to find that setting geared towards space and all that goes with it. The panel started out as an introduction into stargazing and then meandered its’ way through topics brought up by attendees, and all of the topics were wonderfully handled by Mookie and Garth and the occasional person who studied XYZ in school.

Here are some takeaways and memorable parts from the “WHAT GETS YOU EXCITED ABOUT SPACE?” section!

  • Stargazing can be cheap and accessible! Starting with recognizing one star or grouping leads to learning about all the others in the sky, and can be done without a telescope or fancy app. However, Mookie went through and described the telescope he uses as well as the migration/movement of the stars as the world turns and neat software those telescopes have to help track celestial bodies.
  • A question about light pollution led to a perfect start to learning the sky; start with what you can see and continue from there once out in clearer skies.
  • The connection between all civilizations on earth about the beauty and the constellations found in their respective sky. Cygnus the swan and its’ mythology was brought up, as well as Orion’s Belt
  • The life of a star- the explosion causes a nebula, which can collapse to create new stars. (Notable quote: F*** it. *POOF*)
  • The Orion Nebula is super cool because of the trapezium, four newborn stars.
  • The expansion of space and the point of observation, as well as a slight philosophical conclusion that we are, in a way, the center of the universe.
  • The fact that elements are elements no matter where they came from; iron in meteors is the same exact element as the iron in your hemoglobin.
  • The time shift; everything in space happens super fast, but we find out super slow.

All these points and more were brought up in their panel; it was an awesome discussion about space by people who weren’t traditional scientists but were still curious and motivated to learn about the area they loved. The fact that it was open as a discussion also allowed people who weren’t really into space a way to get into space without throwing huge mathematical topics at them. Mookie’s description of stargazing also allowed a cheap accessible way into stargazing and space as well, which is an awesome gateway into STEM!