Camouflage - History

History

  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882), selective pressure on camouflage

  • Edward Bagnall Poulton (1856-1943), camouflage in predator and prey

  • Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), countershading

  • Norman L. Wilkinson (1878-1971), dazzle ships

  • Hugh B. Cott (1900–1987), disruptive coloration

Camouflage has been a topic of interest and research in biology for well over a century. According to Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of natural selection, features such as camouflage evolved by providing individual animals with a reproductive advantage, enabling them to leave more offspring, on average, than other members of the same species. In his Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:

"When we see leaf-eating insects green, and bark-feeders mottled-grey; the alpine ptarmigan white in winter, the red-grouse the colour of heather, and the black-grouse that of peaty earth, we must believe that these tints are of service to these birds and insects in preserving them from danger. Grouse, if not destroyed at some period of their lives, would increase in countless numbers; they are known to suffer largely from birds of prey; and hawks are guided by eyesight to their prey, so much so, that on parts of the Continent persons are warned not to keep white pigeons, as being the most liable to destruction. Hence I can see no reason to doubt that natural selection might be most effective in giving the proper colour to each kind of grouse, and in keeping that colour, when once acquired, true and constant."

In the 19th century, Edward Bagnall Poulton studied animal coloration, especially camouflage, classifying different types such as "special protective resemblance" (where an animal looks like another object), or "general aggressive resemblance" (where a predator blends in with the background, enabling it to approach prey).

The artist Abbott Handerson Thayer formulated "Thayer's Law", the principle of countershading. However he overstated the case, arguing that "All patterns and colors whatsoever of all animals that ever preyed or are preyed on are under certain normal circumstances obliterative" (that is, cryptic camouflage), and that "Not one 'mimicry' mark, not one 'warning color'... nor any 'sexually selected' color, exists anywhere in the world where there is not every reason to believe it the very best conceivable device for the concealment of its wearer".

In the First World War, the Cubist painter Andre Mare designed camouflage schemes for the French, British and Italian armies. One of his specialities was designing camouflaged armoured trees for use as observation posts; he was wounded in 1916 helping to set up an observation post. In April 1917, when German U-boats were sinking many British ships with torpedoes, the marine artist Norman Wilkinson devised dazzle camouflage, which paradoxically made ships more visible but harder to target. In Wilkinson's own words, dazzle was designed "not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading".

In the Second World War, Hugh Cott worked to persuade the British army to use more effective camouflage techniques, including countershading. For example, he painted two rail-mounted coastal guns, one in conventional style, one countershaded. In aerial photographs, the countershaded gun is essentially invisible. Cott's 1940 book Adaptive Coloration in Animals introduced ideas such as "maximum disruptive contrast" (see illustration). This uses streaks of boldly contrasting colour, which paradoxically make animals or military vehicles less visible by breaking up their outlines.

Read more about this topic:  Camouflage

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