Adaptive Coloration in Animals


Adaptive Coloration in Animals is a 500-page textbook about camouflage, warning coloration and mimicry by the Cambridge zoologist Hugh Cott, first published during the Second World War in 1940; the book sold widely and made him famous. The book's general method is to present a wide range of examples from across the animal kingdom of each type of coloration, including marine invertebrates and fishes as well as terrestrial insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The examples are supported by a large number of Cott's own drawings, diagrams, and photographs. This essentially descriptive natural history treatment is supplemented with accounts of experiments by Cott and others. The book had few precedents, but to some extent follows (and criticises) Abbott Handerson Thayer's 1909 Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom. The book is divided into three parts: concealment, advertisement, and disguise. Part 1, concealment, covers the methods of camouflage, which are colour resemblance, countershading, disruptive coloration, and shadow elimination. The effectiveness of these, arguments for and against them, and experimental evidence, are described. Part 2, advertisement, covers the methods of becoming conspicuous, especially for warning displays in aposematic animals. Examples are chosen from mammals, insects, reptiles and marine animals, and empirical evidence from feeding experiments with toads is presented. Part 3, disguise, covers methods of mimicry that provide camouflage, as when animals resemble leaves or twigs, and markings and displays that help to deflect attack or to deceive predators with deimatic displays. Both Batesian mimicry and Müllerian mimicry are treated as adaptive resemblance, much like camouflage, while a chapter is devoted to the mimicry and behaviour of the cuckoo. The concluding chapter admits that the book's force is cumulative, consisting of many small steps of reasoning, and being a wartime book, compares animal to military camouflage. Cott's textbook was at once well received, being admired both by zoologists and naturalists and among allied soldiers. Many officers carried a copy of the book with them in the field. Since the war it has formed the basis for experimental investigation of camouflage, while its breadth of coverage and accuracy have ensured that it remains frequently cited in scientific papers.
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