Published On: 13/04/20221153 words5.8 min read

Colour theory explained in colourful animal combinations

Whilst unicorns exist only in fiction, colourful animals exist on land, under rocks, and deep within the ocean. From vibrant fish to birds, frogs, and a whole host of colourful animals, nature has created its own natural rainbow world.

Animals use colour to advertise services to other species such as cleaning or to signal their sexual status to members of their own species. Often the bright colours of another species are a warning of danger and to stay clear. Some animals also use flashes of colour to avoid being attacked by startling their predators. Whatever the reasoning for their initial creation, I’m sure you will all agree that the resulting displays of colour are a natural palette just waiting to be painted!

A few days ago, I was exploring the colourful animals to get some inspiration for new painting ideas. I found it quite fascinating that some of the colour combinations of the feather, skin or fur some creatures have are quite subordinate to the colour theory.

I guess you know about colour theory but if not, let me tell you what this is briefly.

scarlet macaw

Created by Sir Isaac Newton the colour wheel has 12 colours and all of them originate from the three main colours – RED, BLUE AND YELLOW.

The scarlet macaw perfectly presents these colours. Scarlet feathers adorn their heads and crowns, with groups of yellow, blue and red feathers on their backs.

Simply said, the colour wheel shows us the relationship between the colours. Artists use the colour wheel to create or achieve a particular mood or feel of their art. A well selected combination of colour can be quite powerful and impactful.

Let’s look at some of the mother nature colour combinations on the most colourful animals in the world.

Complementary colours

fairly basslet

Fairy Basslet fish or also known as Royal Gramma is a wonderful example of complementary colours – two colours staying on the opposite side of the wheel. This gorgeous fish lives in Bahamas but also can be raised in provide exceptional colour to the room.


Blue iguana

Blue is quite elusive in the animal world because of the relatively narrow range of pigments that cause colouration in animals. Whilst many creatures have some blue within their colouring, there are only a handful of true-blue animals.

The handsome Blue Iguana above is one fine example, along with blue poison dart frogs, blue morpho butterflies, blue Spix’s macaw, blue sea starfish, blue jays, and a few underwater dwellers: royal blue tang fish, betta fish and the blue glaucus sea slug. 



All colours staying with each other are analog colours.

While a sloth’s fur isn’t actually green, sloths often appear green because their fur is covered with algae, giving them a green tinge.

This grows on a sloth due to the hot, humid climate, long fur, and how still they stay for long periods. Other green animals include green mamba snakes, luna moths, red-eyed tree frogs, emerald tree boas, green geckos, metallic glorious scarabs, and amazon parrots.


red eyed tree frog

Combination of colours which comes from positioning an equilateral triangle on the colour wheel will give you triads. 

Here is where the fun part starts. There are many animals with more complexes and interesting colour combinations. Here for instance, the fabulous red-eyed tree frog flashes its eyes at predators to warn them away.

Split complementary


The split colour combination is when you take one colour from the wheel and combine it with two either side of it. Great example for split combinations is the stunning Peacock.

This bird is arguably one of the most widely recognized birds in the world, due to their beautiful blue-green plumage and spotted tail feathers, which fold open into an elaborate fan.

Square colour


The psychedelic colours of the wattle-cup caterpillar warn potential attackers to steer clear.



Built by creating a rectangle of opposite and complementary colours, tetradic colours combination brings a wonderful scheme options.

Mother nature created some incredible animal specimens like this multi-coloured Gouldian finch also known as the Lady Gouldian finch, Gould’s finch or the rainbow finch.

Colour theory also defined the colours as warm and cold

Warm colours


All colours on the left side of the wheel are warm.

The Rainbow boas get their name because of the bright and colourful red and orange scales on their bodies which have an iridescent sheen that reflects the light to create a rainbow effect.

Cold colours


Respectively, all colours on the left are cool colours.

In this picture, the panther chameleon has a combined spectrum of blue – green colours, however, he can change his colours to reflect any shade in the environment around it and help it avoid predators.

Exception – White colour

mandarin duck

White is a colourless colour. In fact, the white cannot be achieved by mixing any paint colours, but if you combine red green and blue light, they will produce white light.

Being a bit unusual colour, white can be seen in many different colourful animals. They can be full white or just a small part of them. The colourful mandarin duck includes a bright red beak and the bright green and blue feathers on its head, plus stripes of white outlining both sides.

Black colour


Back is a colour made by mixing the primary colours of blue,red and yellow.  If you add a little bit more blue you will have a cool tone of black, but if you add a bit more red you will achieve a warm black colour. Black is quite a common colour for the animals. 

Here for example is the colourful cuckoo wasp with such beautiful metallic elements on its body. When the sunlight changes so do the colours allowing shades of blue and green to shine and shimmer.


The incredible bill of the keel-billed toucan boasts bright green with splotches of orange along the sides with a deep red colour on the end. Some also have an orange line that runs along the side of their beak.

The amazing underwater world also plays host to so many colourful species, far too many to list but here are just a few stunning examples:

colourful animals

Final thoughts

The animal kingdom has so many gorgeous combinations of colour. Whenever you need some colour inspiration or you just want something to uplift your mood, just go to Google and type “colourful animals”. There are tons of wonderful creatures to make you feel happy, wonder and explore.

Colours definitely make people happy. You may want to check out our blog post about “Happiness, creativity and painting” and to learn more about it.

The natural world is indeed a colourful place. So grab your brushes and come paint the rainbow!

Create your own colourful world at one of our Paint & Sip in Style parties.

With love,

Mariella 💖



The artwork is copyright protected and cannot be used commercially.