Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Camouflage- in Nature.

"The octopus, seeks its prey by so changing its colour as to render it like the colour of the stones adjacent to it; it does so also when alarmed."
-Aristotle.

Grasshoppers use camouflage to hide: here a brown grasshopper hides on a rock
 
A brown grasshopper hides on a rock
Camouflage is the art of not being seen, practised by predators, prey and plants. Colour might help an organism blend in with their environment - even when the organism itself cannot see in colour. Body shapes can make them appear to be some other object common in the same surroundings. Patterns might sometimes make an animal more noticeable, but they can also help disguise outline. The tiger's stripes and the giraffe's patches make them almost impossible to detect in dappled light. (www.bbc.co.uk)
 
Camouflage has been a topic of interest and research in zoology for well over a century. According to Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of natural selection, features such as camouflage evolved by providing individual animals with a reproductive advantage, enabling them to leave more offspring, on average, than other members of the same species. In his Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: When we see leaf-eating insects green, and bark-feeders mottled-grey; the alpine ptarmigan white in winter, the red-grouse the colour of heather, and the black-grouse that of peaty earth, we must believe that these tints are of service to these birds and insects in preserving them from danger. Grouse, if not destroyed at some period of their lives, would increase in countless numbers; they are known to suffer largely from birds of prey; and hawks are guided by eyesight to their prey, so much so, that on parts of the Continent persons are warned not to keep white pigeons, as being the most liable to destruction. Hence I can see no reason to doubt that natural selection might be most effective in giving the proper colour to each kind of grouse, and in keeping that colour, when once acquired, true and constant (Darwin).

The English zoologist Edward Bagnall Poulton studied animal coloration, especially camouflage. In his 1890 book The Colours of Animals, he classified different types such as "special protective resemblance" (where an animal looks like another object), or "general aggressive resemblance" (where a predator blends in with the background, enabling it to approach prey). His experiments showed that swallowtailed moth pupae were camouflaged to match the backgrounds on which they were reared as larvae. Poulton's "general protective resemblance" was at that time considered to be the main method of camouflage, as when Frank Evers Beddard wrote in 1892 that "tree-frequenting animals are often green in colour. Among vertebrates numerous species of parrots, iguanas, tree-frogs, and the green tree-snake are examples". Beddard did however briefly mention other methods, including the "alluring coloration" of the flower mantis and the possibility of a different mechanism in the orange tip butterfly. He wrote that "the scattered green spots upon the under surface of the wings might have been intended for a rough sketch of the small flowerets of the plant [an umbellifer], so close is their mutual resemblance." He also explained the coloration of sea fish such as the mackerel: "Among pelagic fish it is common to find the upper surface dark-coloured and the lower surface white, so that the animal is inconspicuous when seen either from above or below."