The coloration of an organism may be caused by deposits of organic pigments in the tissues (as in human skin or in plant leaves), by optical effects of the refraction of light rays (as in mollusk shells and in some butterfly wings and bird feathers), or by a combination of both (see color). The different modes are illustrated in the baboon and the mandrill: the predominantly brown coloring is due to melanin, but the red and blue markings are also caused by melanin, in the latter case by the refraction of light due to specific spatial arrangements of the pigment granules in the skin areas involved.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.