Make Way for Color | Facts You Don’t Know About Color

Dear Kid,

It is officially spring, and by “officially” I mean that bulbs are happily blooming around our house. We have pinks and purples and daffodil (which should be a color) and lots of leaves which we hope will turn into tulips (if the bloody rabbit will go find something else to eat).

Color wheel invented by Sir Isaac Newton DearKidLoveMom.comWe are thoroughly enjoying the colors of the season (if not the accompanying allergies). Which (of course) got me thinking about color.

Turns out, color is highly scientific. I know this because Sir Isaac Newton (who you may recall was left handed), scientist extraordinaire, invented the color wheel. You’re forgiven if you didn’t know that because he did it in 1666 and you probably weren’t paying attention to the news that year. But think about it the next time you contemplate gravity.

It also turns out that color doesn’t really exist (which sounds like something philosophical scientists would talk about). Our brains (being smarter than we are) deal with all the data zooming in by assigning color. Sort of like color-coding a filing system. Nonetheless, we have a color wheel because Newton said so.

Thomas Young, who lived after Newton and whose hair was shorter than Newton’s (not that it matters), came up with the notion that we see colors though combinations of red, green, and blue. This is because we have three types of receptor cells in our little eyeballs which respond to light differently. This allows our brains to see about 10 million different colors (none of which exist—see above).

Make Way for Ducklings DearKidLoveMom.comAnd while that’s a boatload more than dogs (who see the colors Food, Delivery Person, and Toy), it is nothing compared to some animals. Mallard Ducks (make way—extra points if you get the reference) see 170% more colors than humans (which is why they live in unpainted nests—they’d never be able to agree on a color).

Meanwhile, it turns out that women are better at color than men are. Partly because women pay attention. Partly because women care (whereas the majority of the male population is content to know the colors of sports teams and leave it at that). And partly because women have two X chromosomes. Seriously. There is a specific gene that helps interpret the color red and it lives on the X chromosome. Men have half the number of X genes women have and therefore only see none of the shades of red women see. Scientific fact. No information on how many shades of red Mrs. Mallard can see.

Hoping you have a highly colorful day.

Love, Mom


  1. When I worked in custom apparel last year, my eyes were opened to different names for red and pink, for example. Classic Red, True Red, Hot Pink, Azalea, Heliconia, Light Pink, Charity Pink… amazing.

    I did, however, learn that there was a Bears Navy, Bengals Orange, Dolphin Orange, among other things. One of my customers actually had his company logo in the Washington Redskins colors. I think you may be onto something…

    • Hi Daniel,

      I don’t think I know what Heliconia is (I will consult with My Friend the Internet) and I do love Bengal Orange!


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