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Quirks of cuttlefish, quail and caterpillar camouflage revealed at next Café Science

11 May 2015

Camouflaged quail eggs

If you have always wanted to be invisible and yearn for an invisibility cloak, then Wednesday night’s Café Science about nature’s next best thing could be right up your street.

As one of the most effective ways that animals have evolved to conceal themselves, camouflage is essential to survival in the wild – both to remain hidden from watchful preying eyes and for the likes of the leopard to stay out of sight as it lies in wait, ready to pounce on its prey.

In ‘Camouflage: hiding in plain sightDr George Lovell – a visual perception psychologist at Abertay University – will describe the main camouflage techniques used by the likes of the zebra, viper and even the humble caterpillar, as well as those used by the master of disguise: the cuttlefish.

The key to camouflage is in disrupting the visual processing system, so Dr Lovell will begin by outlining the key visual processes that allow us to perceive what we see before going on to demonstrate how camouflage is used to break each of these processes.

He explains:

“In order to reproduce and ensure the survival of their species, animals need to stay alive. This means they need to be able to both eat and not be consumed by other animals.

“There are a number of different approaches to this: you can hide or live somewhere inhospitable to other animals; you can be poisonous and wear a warning pattern that deters other animals from eating you; you can pretend to be one of these poisonous animals by wearing their warning patterns; or you can pretend to be other things – as caterpillars that look like twigs do for example.

“However, there’s another trick that some animals have up their sleeve, which is hiding against their background. This is the one we’re most interested in as psychologists at Abertay, because camouflage – as it is known – is all to do with how our visual processing system works.

“We know quite a bit about this, but there are many remaining mysteries. Debate still rages about the function of zebra camouflage, for example: is it to fool the motion processing systems of lions or is it to fool biting flies so that the zebras don't get bitten by parasites?

“Improving our understanding of these things tells us both about the processes involved in natural selection and about how our visual systems work. We can then use this knowledge to perhaps improve the type of camouflage used by the military. Conversely, if we know what makes something difficult to see then can we use this knowledge to make some things more conspicuous?”

Camouflage: hiding in plain sight’ will take place in Dundee Science Centre’s Infusion cafe at 6pm on Wednesday 13 May. It is free and open to all. There is no need to book in advance but an early arrival is recommended.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

Café Science was launched in January 2008, and has attracted more than 6000 visitors since then. The monthly events are informal discussions led by leading local researchers that allow members of the public the opportunity to learn more about the ground-breaking science happening locally.

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