Friday, November 20, 2009

Aposematic: "That red head of hers is no lie."

I have been thinking about aposematic coloration, or "warning coloration" lately. This term is usually applied to many of those bright colored animals--often insects, frogs, snakes, etc... that you might see in a nature program. These bright colors, most often red, act as the opposite of camouflage. They are a clear signal to anyone that there is something toxic, obnoxious, foul- smelling, distasteful, or generally dangerous about the creature that bears them.

So what about red-headed people? Is this aposematic coloring, or does this rule only apply to non-humans? My wife is a redhead, so I occasionally tease her about this when I think she is being a bit "fiery."

Certainly, tradition would hold that the redness of a person's hair tells you something about their personality. Everybody has probably heard at one point or another that redheads are hot-tempered and feisty. This may be true, but I would have to question whether it has to do with some sort of genetic predisposition or the fact that they are so stereotyped. You know, I might be a little testy as well, if I was painted with such a reputation. Perhaps it is easy to marginalize redheads because red hair really is something of an anomaly. Less than four percent of the world's population have naturally red hair (though, somehow, the highest percentage of hair-dye jobs are red). There is, in fact, a gene for red hair (amazingly not discovered until 1995), though it has often been called a "genetic mutation." Well, it's been called worse things before.

In the middle ages women with red hair were often taken for witches, not only for their fiery mane, but freckles ("marks of the devil") were also seen as a sign of witchcraft--oh, and then there was that "temper" of course. Egyptians went so far as to burn redheaded maidens, as the color was considered unlucky. Ah, those crazy, brilliant Egyptians--not brilliant because they burned redheads, but you know...the pyramids and stuff. In many early depictions of Adam and Eve, Eve is either blond or brunette before the Fall and becomes a redhead after partaking of the forbidden fruit. Judas also is usually a ginger knob in paintings. (Hey, maybe "Ginger Knobs and Broomsticks" would have been a better title for this post.)

At the same, time humans seem to be attracted to the color red, well, at least men do. A recent study suggested that men can't help but be affected by the color--not just with hair but in clothing, etc. The study had men look at different pictures of women, and they would photo-shop in different colors of shirts. The results: when the photos included a red shirt, the women appeared more attractive. It had nothing to do with her eyes, the shade of her hair, or any of those types of factors because it was always the same shirt and the same woman, just a different color.

There is really no need for me to bring up the many connotations of the color red in society, but--Valentines Day, red-light district, I love Lucy--need I say more? The article I read with the red-shirt study was even rude enough to draw a correlation between the results of the study and the fact that the....uh...the..."posterior" of female baboons turns red during ovulation. If you have ever read any of those Georgia Nicolson books, you will be familiar with the term "red-bottomosity." Anyway, I don't think I would go that far, but there does seem to be something going on here.

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