Disruptive Patterns & the Artist-Scientist

MabeeSalamander_JMLandin

Many animals display disruptive coloration, a pattern that visually breaks up the edge of their shape. For example, Mabee’s Salamander (Ambystoma mabeei) wears speckles like frost along its side. And it was an artist who first described this biological phenomenon – Abbott Thayer. (1)┬áHis studies of these patterns influenced the use of camouflage in the military.

In a recent fun study, researchers placed graphic squiggle-snakes on a mock-leaf background or plain background. They manipulated the coloration – solid, patterned, or patterned with bold and bright edges to the shapes. The edge-enhancement made the squiggle-snakes more difficult to spot on a leafy background. It also confused the observer about the shape of the snake when it was on a plain background.

  1. Behrens RR. 2008. Revisiting Abbott Thayer: non-scientific reflections about camouflage in art, war and zoology. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society 364(1516) 497-501
  2. Sharman RJ and PG Lovell. 2019. Edge-enhanced disruptive camouflage impairs shape discrimination. i-Perception 10(5) 1-9