Many animals such as zebras, fish, and snakes, have striking patterns such as black and white stripes or zigzags. These types of markings are obviously not typical camouflage, as they are very easy to see. Such patterns may help to provide protection against predators when the animal is moving. Rather than making an animal difficult to detect, these patterns might make prey animals difficult to track, by masking the true speed or direction of movement of the animal.
This idea is known as ‘motion dazzle’, and we are interested in testing whether this could explain why so many animals have striking patterns. More generally, we want to know what types of patterning (if any!) can affect the viewer’s visual perception during movement. In this game, patterns evolve based on their effectiveness at avoiding being caught when moving, where the ‘animals’ that take the longest to catch reproduce to create the next generation of patterned animals. Over time, these patterns should evolve to become harder to catch.
Why is this interesting?
Surprisingly, there is still much scientists don’t know about motion perception. As motion is a fundamental aspect of any animal’s life, it is an important part of vision that we need to understand better. As well as helping us to understand how animals survive against predators, it can also tell us useful things about human vision. In the First World War, ships were painted with dazzle markings in an attempt to mislead the enemy about their speed, direction and distance. The effectiveness of these markings is unclear, as many other factors were also involved in the losses of ships at sea. Given that many road accidents today involve errors in speed estimation, understanding motion perception has useful applications in day-to-day life.
Want to find out more?
Here are links to some freely accessible scientific journal papers about the idea of motion dazzle: