Hanlon has argued that all animals use three basic templates for camouflage (Hanlon 2007): uniform, mottled, and disruptive (shown here with cuttlefish).
“Uniform body patterns are those characterized by minimal variation in contrast. Mottle patterns are characterized by small-scale light and dark patches, and some repetition of parts of the pattern. […] Disruptive patterns are characterized by light and dark patches of varying shapes, scales and orientations, and some patches are usually of high contrast” (Hanlon 2007).
The model animal above, the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, has dynamic camouflage (i.e. it changes to suit its environment), but Hanlon alleges that even animals with static camouflage patterns use one of these basic templates. It might we worthwhile to test this claim yourself: the popular media site boredpanda.com has a listicle containing photographs of animal camouflage. Use these to see if you can sort each animal into one of the three basic camo patterns. Here are three examples of static camo patterns, one from each template, taken from the encyclopedia of life.
The powerful idea behind universal camouflage here should be clearer in light of our discussion of the universals of visual physiology and photochemistry. If, as we saw, major aspects of visual psychology are shared across all animals that see, then any animal interested in fooling a visually oriented predator faces a largely homogenous and ubiquitous adaptive problem: i.e., learning how to fool one predator species means you’ve learned how to fool most animals.
So who has camouflage? According to Hanlon, every animal.
Note: There is no science without a scientist, and so the author has attempted to maintain the essential truth of that—namely that at each stage of the scientific process there is a person looking at evidence and making judgments. However there is almost no personal biography, and much of the professional biography of each author has been abridged dramatically. In spite of this, the reader should keep in mind that each of these individuals were complicated people who share at least a job description. George Wald once said, “A scientist should be the happiest of men. Not that science isn't serious; but as everyone knows, being serious is one way of being happy, just as being gay is one way of being unhappy”. Each of these individuals had a scientific ethic, as well as a body of scientific work, and where possible, the author of each section has attempted to not forget the romanticism of the spirit of investigation, or the fact that many of these people were excited by a simple truth—after all, they were seeing things no one else had seen before. That majesty can be easy to forget if you are an outsider new to the complexities of visual physiology, but these scientists never forgot it.
Universalizing Photochemical Theories of Vision: Hecht, Wald, and the Marine Biological Laboratory
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Haldan Keffer Hartline, a Prize, and Two Accidents
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Roger Hanlon, Universal Camouflage, and Studying Vision at the MBL in the 21st Century
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- Chiaoa, Chuan-Chin, J. Kenneth Wickiser, Justine J. Allen, Brock Genter, and Roger T. Hanlon. "Hyperspectral imaging of cuttlefish camouflage indicates good color match in the eyes of fish predators." PNAS 108, no. 22 (May 2011): 9148-9153.
- Hanlon, Roger. "Cephalopod dynamic camouflage." Current biology , 2007: 400-404.
- Hanlon, Roger. Rapid adaptive camouflage and signaling in cephalopods. PART I: Concepts and questions. Performed by Roger Hanlon. iBiology.org. 2011.
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- Ulmer, K.M., K.C. Buresch, M.M. Kossodo, L.M. Mäthger, L.A. Siemann, and R.T. Hanlon. " Vertical Visual Features Have a Strong Influence on Cuttlefish Camouflage ." Biological Bulletin 224, no. 2 (2013): 110-118.
- Zimmer, Carl. "Cuttlefish camouflage." New York Times, February 13, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/1194817111131/cuttlefish-camouflage.html.