Martin Stevens1, Daniella H. Yule1, Graeme D. Ruxton2
1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
2Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
Many traits in animals reduce the rate of attack from visually hunting predators, including camouflage, warning signals and mimicry. In addition, some animal markings may reduce the likelihood that an attack ends in successful capture. These might include dazzle markings, high-contrast patterns that make the estimation of speed and trajectory difficult. However, until now, no study has experimentally tested whether some markings may achieve such an effect. We developed a computer ‘game’ where human ‘predators’ have to capture computer-generated prey moving across a background. In two experiments, we find that although uniform camouflaged targets were among the hardest to capture, so were a range of high-contrast conspicuous patterns, such as bands and zigzags. Prey were also more difficult to capture against more heterogeneous than uniform backgrounds, and at faster speeds of movement. As such, we find the first experimental evidence that conspicuous patterns, similar to those found in a wide range of real animals, make the capture of moving prey more challenging. Various anti-predator markings may work prey during motion, and some animals may combine such dazzle patterns with other functions, such as camouflage, thermoregulation, sexual and warning signals.
keywords: protective coloration, motion, conspicuousness, vision, predation, dazzle