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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Mar 22;272(1563):665-70.

Background-matching and disruptive coloration, and the evolution of cryptic coloration.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, SE-10691, Stockholm, Sweden. sami.merilaita@zoologi.su.se


Cryptic prey coloration typically bears a resemblance to the habitat the prey uses. It has been suggested that coloration which visually matches a random sample of the background maximizes background matching. We studied this previously untested hypothesis, as well as another, little studied principle of concealment, disruptive coloration, and whether it could, acting in addition to background matching, provide another plausible means of achieving camouflage. We presented great tits (Parus major) with artificial background-matching and disruptive prey (DP), and measured detection times. First, we studied whether any random sample of a background produces equally good crypsis. This turned out to not be the case. Next, we compared the DP and the best background-matching prey and found that they were equally cryptic. We repeated the tests using prey with all the coloration elements being whole, instead of some of them being broken by the prey outline, but this did not change the result. We conclude that resemblance of the background is an important aspect of concealment, but that coloration matching a random visual sample of the background is neither sufficient nor necessary to minimize the probability of detection. Further, our study lends empirical support to the principle of disruptive coloration.

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