Color is in the Eye(s) of the Beholder

During my Master in Antwerp I wrote a thesis on a group of snails (genus Plutonia) that is endemic to the Azores (an archipelago in the Atlantic). I picked this topic because of my interest in phylogenetics (the construction of evolutionary trees) and because there was a field trip to this Portuguese island group. There is one particular landscape that I will always remember: the Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel. It consists of two small lakes that are connected by a narrow passage, located in a big dormant volcano. The most striking feature is the different colors of the lakes, one is green while the other blue.

The different colored lakes of Sete Cidades
The different colored lakes of Sete Cidades

Some Romance

An ancient legend explains why the lakes have different colors. A widowed King restricted his daughter, Antilia, to his castle and the surrounding gardens. But one day, she managed to escape and fell in love with a local shepard who was playing his flute (what is it with women and musicians?!). Eventually, the shepard asked the King for his daughter in marriage. The King refused and forbade his daughter to ever see the shepard again. Antilia and the shepard met in secret and cried the whole afternoon before saying goodbye forever. Their tears formed two beautiful lakes, one green (the Princess’ eye color) and one blue (the shepard’s eye color). Isn’t that romantic?

My Alternative Hypothesis

This legend provides a good hypothesis for the color of the lakes. But as a good scientist, one always has to think about alternative explanations. I propose another hypothesis: what if one really depressed person (maybe the King after his wife died) with two different eye colors cried a lot and gave rise to the two lakes simultaneously? The occurrence of different eye colors is a condition known as heterochromia iridum and is caused by a skewed distribution of melanin between the irises. The dazzling Mila Kunis is a nice example. Sounds like a plausible hypothesis to me.

The differently colored eyes of Milan Kunis
The differently colored eyes of Mila Kunis

By the way, the actual scientific explanation for the different colors of the lakes is quite straightforward. The green lake is more shallow and picks up more color from the vegetation, while the blue lake is deeper and reflects the color of the sky. So, a simple explanation, although I would prefer some role (one way or another) for Mila Kunis…

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