Quail Camouflage Their Colorful Eggs; Playing Hide and Seek

First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 09:17 AM EST

If you want a real challenge on an Easter egg hunt, use quail eggs. A new study conducted by scientists and published in the journal Current Biology shows that Japanese quail try to protect their colorful eggs from predators by using customized camouflage.

How does this work, you ask? George Lovell and his colleagues observed that mother quail laid their eggs in locations that matched the patterns on their eggs. The ground-dwelling quail, which creates robust nests on the ground, reaches maturity at about six weeks of age. Since each quail lays eggs that are patterned slightly differently, the quail choose different locations to nest.

Some lab testing needed to be done, though. The researchers gave the quail the option of laying eggs on white, yellow, red, or black sand. They then took pictures of all the eggs and backgrounds to evaluate how easy they were to spot. Their results are, perhaps, not so surprising.

They found that the quail hid their eggs. However, they did it in two different ways. When more than 30 percent of the egg was covered in spots, the quail laid it in a location that matched the spots. When less than 30 percent of the egg was covered, the quail laid it in a place that matched the background color of the egg shell.

This particular form of camouflage is known as "disruptive coloration." It makes it difficult for predators to see the outlines of the egg, and creates an effect that makes it less likely for the egg to be eaten.

Want to see what these eggs looked like? Check out the photo available here.

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