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Pattern and speed interact to hide moving prey

Lookup NU author(s): Diana Umeton, Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, Eugenia Fezza, Professor Jenny ReadORCiD, Professor Candy Rowe



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Cell Press, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Evolutionary biologists have long been fascinated by camouflage patterns that help animals reduce their chances of being detected by predators. However, patterns that hide prey when they remain stationary, such as those that match their backgrounds, are rendered ineffective once prey are moving. The question remains: can a moving animal ever be patterned in a way that helps reduce detection by predators? One long-standing idea is that high contrast patterns with repeated elements, like stripes, which are highly visible when prey are stationary, can actually conceal prey when they move fast enough. This is predicted by the ‘flicker fusion effect’, which occurs when prey move with sufficient speed that their pattern appears to blur, making them appear more featureless and become less conspicuous against the background. However, although this idea suggests a way to camouflage moving prey, it has not been empirically tested, and it is not clear that it would work at speeds that are biologically relevant to a predator. Combining psychophysics and behavioural approaches, we show that speed and pattern interact to determine the detectability of prey to the praying mantis (Sphodromantis lineola), and crucially, that prey with high-contrast stripes become less visible than prey with background matching patterns when moving with sufficient speed. We show that stripes can reduce the detection of moving prey by exploiting the spatio-temporal limitations of predator perception, and that the camouflaging effect of a pattern depends upon the speed of prey movement.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Umeton D, Tarawneh G, Fezza E, Read JCA, Rowe C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Biology

Year: 2019

Volume: 29

Issue: 18

Pages: 3109–3113.e3

Print publication date: 12/09/2019

Online publication date: 12/09/2019

Acceptance date: 24/07/1986

Date deposited: 03/10/2019

ISSN (print): 0960-9822

ISSN (electronic): 1879-0445

Publisher: Cell Press


DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.07.072


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Funder referenceFunder name
RL-2012-019Leverhulme Trust, The