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Quail are experts in camouflage, say researchers

It turns out that quail are experts in camouflage, especially ground-nesting Japanese quail. According to researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology, mother quail are familiar enough with the patterning of their own eggs that they can choose laying spots to hide them best.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Japanese quail are a ground-dwelling and nesting bird. They build strong, sturdy nests on the ground and usually camouflaged under vegetation. This type of quail mature at six weeks of age and are usually in full egg production by 50 days of age.

According to P. George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St. Andrews, quail know camouflage so well that they lay their eggs on a substrate that maximizes the eggs’ natural camouflage. Researchers also discovered the maximization appears specific to individual birds.

Researchers theorized that quail might make optimal egg-laying decisions based on the special characteristics of their own eggs. To test this theory, they offered female quail in the lab a choice between four different backgrounds on which to lay their eggs.

The experiments showed that most quail mothers lay their eggs on background colors to match the spots on their eggs. That strategy is known as disruptive coloration, in which contrasting patterns on surfaces make the outline of an object, such as an egg, more difficult to see. Quail laying eggs with little pattern instead picked lighter surfaces to correspond to the principal background color of their eggs.

The findings reveal that quail in the wild reduce the chance that their eggs will be discovered and taken by predators through cautious decision-making, according to researchers.

Lovell said that animals make decisions based on their knowledge of the environment and their own phenotype to increase their ability to reproduce and survive in the wild. Quail know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will maximize survival.