What’s the world’s shiniest living thing?

What’s the world’s shiniest living thing?

What’s the shiniest living thing you can think of?

Peacock feathers? What about red admiral butterflies?

Scientists have recently revealed the world's shiniest living thing!

It's a tiny African fruit with a big sparkle. The berries of Pollia condensata are metallic blue, brighter than any other known material. They look like lots of small Christmas baubles, clustered together on a leaf.

The berries look tasty, right? They're not! The berries don't taste very nice and they aren't very nutritious. You wouldn't want to eat them.

Why do the berries shine?

Scientists think that the berries are sparkly to attract birds. Lots of birds are attracted to sparkly objects to use in mating displays or to decorate their nests.

Alternatively, the berries could trick birds into eating something that looks like a tasty and nourishing berry. The berry doesn't use valuable energy to make itself juicy or nutritious, but it is still eaten by birds.


Lots of birds eat berries

Whether it's because birds like to eat shiny objects or because they're fooled into eating something that looks like a blueberry, the shininess helps the plant in the same way. The seeds are spread away from the parent plant, so the new plants don't compete with their parent.

If birds eat the berries, the seeds inside pass through the birds' digestive system unharmed. The birds poo out the seeds and the poo acts as a fertiliser!

How do the berries shine?

Plant cell walls are made of a carbohydrate called cellulose. The berries of Pollia condensata have tiny layers of cellulose stacked like a spiral staircase. These layers reflect different wavelengths of light, creating a blue base colour with a rainbow shimmer of other colours on top.

Why do other living things shine?

There aren't very many shiny plants, but lots of fruits are brightly coloured to attract birds and mammals to eat them. Like the shiny berries of Pollia condensata, these brightly coloured fruits need animals to spread their seeds. Bright fruits are more likely to get eaten and their seeds are more likely to be spread.


Berries are brightly coloured to attract birds and mammals to eat them

Some birds, like peacocks and birds-of-paradise, have shiny feathers. Usually the male bird has shiny feathers, to attract a female bird. Scientists aren't sure why shiny feathers attract female birds.

Perhaps it's a signal to the female birds that the male birds are healthy, with no parasites or disease. Or perhaps it's a sign that these male birds are strong enough to avoid predators, even though the birds can easily be seen.


Peacocks have shiny tail feathers