Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Concealing Coloration Through Figure Disruption

from Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909)
Above In a recent find of a brief newspaper article by Francis Rolt-Wheeler on natural camouflage (quoted below), we were reminded of a demonstration of background matching versus figure disruption in butterflies, using cut-out paper shapes, by Abbott H. Thayer and (his son) Gerald H. Thayer, from their early book about Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). 


Francis Rolt-Wheeler, CAMOUFLAGE IN THE WOODS in The Richmond Palladium (May 29, 1920), p. 14—

Of course you’ve read [Rudyard] Kipling’s Just So Stories. If you haven’t, get busy! And if you have, you’ll have read “How the Leopard Got His Spots.”

The point is that there’s a lot of good woodcraft in that story. All the woods folk fit into their backgrounds. Watch, and you’ll see!

Khaki has been found to be the color least visible at a distance, and how many of the woods folks are brown? If you don’t really look hard, of course, you won’t see. Why? Simply because though the creatures are there, you don’t see them. They’re camouflaged.

Good observers have said that it you go silently into any place in the deep woods, and keep perfectly still, by and by you’ll see one creature, and then another, until maybe half a dozen are right near you. You didn’t see them at all, at first, they seem to grow out of the woods like a puzzle picture. Sometimes even the most striking colors are the hardest to see.

Try it. Take a piece of gray-green paper and pin it on a butterfly cut out of paper, solid color. You see that butterfly a block away. Now take that same paper butterfly, scallop his wings, and give him big white spots and shades of blue. Near at hand he looks twice as conspicuous. Pin him on the paper. Twenty yards away you can’t see him at all.

Now try the trick yourself. A girl who wants to see the wild folk should put on a light green frock, a little hat with flowers and stay quite still in shrubbery that is not too dense. Don’t hide. If you fit into the background, you’ll be really concealed. And you might see a fawn stroll by, prettiest of all spring creatures in the woods.


Tim Caro, Sami Merilaita and Martin Stevens, “The Colors of Animals: From Wallace to the Present Day. I. Cryptic Coloration” in Charles Hyde Smith and George Beccaloni, eds., Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace. UK: Oxord University Press, 2010—

[The Thayers were among] the first to argue that camouflage consisted both of blending (background matching), and disruption (G. Thayer called it “ruptive”)—the latter being where the animal’s appearance is broken up by strongly contrasting patterns that mask the outline of the body. Similarly, disruptive patterns may disguise otherwise conspicuous or vulnerable parts such as the legs or eyes. In addition to disruptive coloration, [the] Thayer[s] also pioneered the related idea of “dazzle markings” (the term “dazzle” stemming from the American term “razzle dazzle,” to confuse).


Francis Rolt-Wheeler, THE WONDER OF WAR AT SEA. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1919, pp. 346-347—

“Do you suppose, Chief," asked the lad, as they were standing on deck, rejoicing in the capture of the submarine and looking at her checkerboard colored conning tower, "that this marine camouflage is really useful? Some of it looks so absurd?"…

[The Chief replies] "The ‘dazzle’ system o’ camouflage, which is British, is designed to puzzle the eye. At a mile and a half or two miles, ye can’t tell whether a ‘dazzled’ ship is comin’ or goin’. Ye can’t tell if she’s high out o’ the water, or low. Ye can’t tell, sometimes, if she has one, two, or three funnels. For a soobmarine, with a periscope maybe four to six feet out o’ the water, a ‘dazzled’ ship is like shootin’ at a ‘now ye see it an’ now ye don’t’ target. Soobmarines have been known to fire torpedoes as much as eight degrees out o’ line, when thinkin’ they were firin’ straight at a dazzled ship, even at close range. The human eye, after all, is no’ a pairfect mechanism.”

Exhibition at Dubuque Museum of Art