Ground-nesting Japanese quails are experts at matching their spotted eggs against appropriate backgrounds to camouflage them against predators, according to research published today in the scientific journal Current Biology.
"Not only are the eggs camouflaged, but the birds choose to lay their eggs on a substrate that maximizes camouflage," said Paul George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St. Andrews, who co-authored the study with Karen Spencer also of St. Andrews.
When given a choice between four backgrounds in the labratory, most mother quails matched one that closely resembled the spotting on their eggs.
The strategy, known as disruptive collaboration, confuses predators and makes the outline of the egg harder to detect, the authors said.
For example, a quail with little pattering on its eggs would choose a lighter spot on the ground to nest.
Earlier research by the pair found that the birds were also able to repeat certain spotting patterns on their eggs.
"Animals make choices based upon their knowledge of the environment and their own phenotype to maximize their ability to reproduce and survive," Lovell said. "In this specific case, birds know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will minimize predation."
Japanese quails are a species of the bird found in East Asia.