Camouflage Saves Eggs and Birds from Being Eaten by Predators

First Posted: Jan 29, 2016 07:55 AM EST

While an animal's sense of sight is important, they also have a sense of smell and sense of hearing. Now, scientists have looked at camouflage and have found just how vital it is for keeping prey animals alive.

In this latest study, the researchers used sophisticated digital imaging to show how prey animals-in this case, ground-nesting birds in Zambia-would appear to predators. In this case, the researchers found that animals or eggs that matched the pattern or contrast of the surrounding landscape were less likely to be eaten by their natural predators.

"We know that animal camouflage has evolved over millions of years to help prey evade being seen by predators-it is a classic example of natural selection," said Jolyon Troscianko, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Yet although it may seem obvious that blending into your background makes you less likely to be seen, it is surprisingly difficult to test this in a natural setting. This is partly because well camouflaged animals are of course difficult to find in the wild, and also because they tend to keep moving around, meaning the match between their own appearance and their background is constantly changing. In addition, we had determined which predators were eating the nests so we could take into account their different visual systems."

The researchers studied a variety of ground-nesting birds, whose eggs would stay in a fixed location throughout the month-long period needed for incubation. This allowed the scientists to accurately compare both the adult birds, and their eggs, to their chosen backgrounds, as well as monitor which nests had been found by predators.

So what did they find? In species that would flee the nest as predators approached, the eggs were more likely to survive if they matched the background more closely when exposed to view by their fleeing parent. However, with the nightjar, the presence of the parent was more important as it crouched over the nest. Nightjars that matched the background pattern were more likely to save their eggs.

The findings show just how important camouflage is in the natural world, and how animals cope with predators.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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