Animal survival.

The wonderful way that animals have evolved to survive life on the go.

It is very easy to look at our wonderful domesticated dogs and forget that genetically they are still very much hunting dogs. Of all the dogs that we have had Dhalia seemed the most closely connected with those instincts, and she is still missed more than a year after she died. So much so that I’m going to republish part of the post that commemorated her life just after she died. Here it is:

Dhalia, as with so many other dogs, offered lasting lessons.
April 8th, 2014

Inevitably, as Jean and I went around our ‘stuff’ yesterday after burying Dhalia in the morning, there were moments of quiet contemplation and gentle discussion.  Interludes over a hot drink where we reflected on the special dog that she was.

Much has already been written in this place but there can’t be too many reminders for us quirky humans of how valuable are the qualities of trust and love given to us by our dogs.

We need reminding how dogs are so intuitive and can reach out to a stranger without a moment of hesitation.  As Jean described when recalling how she first came across Dhalia.

Dhalia - domesticated but still the wild dog shows through.
Dhalia – domesticated but still the wild dog shows through.

It was a Sunday around the middle of the month of September in the year 2005. My friend, Gwen, and I had set off for La Manga, a small fishing village three miles from San Carlos, Mexico.  As the trip would take us through areas of desolate desert and the day was forecast to be a sizzler, we left early. The purpose of the journey was to feed a pack of dogs that were living on the outskirts of La Manga. These wild dogs were gradually getting used to our presence and with the aid of a humane trap we had previously caught two of them, a small puppy and her mother. Those two dogs were at my home and were gradually becoming tame so that good homes could be found for them.

Half-way to our destination, we saw two dogs running by the side of the road.   It wasn’t unusual to see strays searching for road-kill. I stopped the car and prepared food and water for them. One dog took off almost immediately but the other just stood perfectly still looking intently at me. She was rail-thin and full of mange.  Her ears and chest were scabbed with blood, and I could see that previously she had had pups. Tentatively, I pushed the food towards her. She took a bite and sat on her haunches; her eyes never leaving mine. Then she lifted a paw and reached out to me. Immediately, I burst into tears and scooped her into my arms.  I carried her back to the car where she lay quietly in my lap whilst we went on to do our feeding.  She was bloody and very smelly. However, I didn’t care.

Dhalia was always a gentle dog.  One that would mix with any of the other dogs. A dog that loved people, of all types and ages.

Love and Trust - Grandson Morten hugging Dhalia.
Love and Trust – Grandson Morten hugging Dhalia, September 2013.

You can read the full post here.

The reason that my post from last year came to mind was as a result of a recent article on The Conversation blogsite. It was called Motion dazzle: spotting the patterns that help animals outsmart predators on the run and seemed ideal to share with all you good people who support this place.


Motion dazzle: spotting the patterns that help animals outsmart predators on the run

Laura Kelley, University of Cambridge

Zebra are seen running at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania Nov. 14, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Dietrich/Released)
Zebra are seen running at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania Nov. 14, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Dietrich/Released)

Many animals use the colours and patterns on their bodies to help them blend into the background and avoid the attention of predators. But this strategy, crypsis, is far from perfect. As soon as the animal moves, the camouflage is broken, and it is much easier for a predator to see and catch it. So how do animals protect themselves when they’re on the move?

Researchers are exploring whether high-contrast patterns during motion, such as stripes and zigzags, may be distorting the predator’s perception of where the animal is going. But, as little is known about such “motion dazzle”, we have built an online game to help shed light on it.

Lessons from war

The idea is that it may be more effective for animals to focus on preventing capture, rather then preventing detection or recognition, is actually more than 100 years old. It was naturalist Abbott Thayer who suggested that high-contrast patterns may distort the perceived speed or direction of a moving object, making it harder to track and capture.

Such motion dazzle patterns were actually used in World War I and II, where some ships were painted with black and white geometric patterns in an attempt to reduce the number of successful torpedo attacks from submarines. However, due to many other factors affecting wartime naval losses, it is unclear whether motion dazzle patterns actually had the desired effect.

HMS Argus displaying a coat of dazzle camouflage in 1918. wikimedia

What about the natural world? Zebras have bold stripes, and scientists have debated the function of their patterns since Darwin’s time. A recent modelling study suggested that when zebras move, their stripes create contradictory signals about their direction of movement that is likely to confuse predators. There are potentially two visual illusions responsible for this, which could form the basis of motion dazzle effects: the wagon wheel effect and the barber pole illusion.

The wagon wheel effect is named after Western movies, where the wheels on wagons often appear to be moving backwards. This is because the visual system takes “snapshots” over time and links them to create a continuous scene, in the same manner as recording film. If a wheel spoke moves forward rapidly between sampling events, it will appear to have moved backwards as it will be misidentified as the following spoke.

The barber pole illusion (also known as the aperture effect) occurs because the moving stripes provide ambiguous information about the true direction of movement. These illusory effects produced by stripes could therefore lead to difficulties in judging the speed and movement of a moving target. However, the zebra study was entirely theoretical and didn’t test whether striped patterns actually affected the judgements of real observers.

Dazzle Bug

Surprisingly, the first experimental tests of the effectiveness of motion dazzle patterns weren’t carried out until recently. Some studies have shown that strikingly patterned targets can be more difficult to catch than targets with other patterns in studies using humans as “predators” playing touch screen computer games. However, other studies have found no clear advantage for motion dazzle patterns So although patterns can affect our perception of movement, it’s still not clear which are most effective at doing so.

Can you see the spider? Crypsis can be pretty effective – as long as you don’t move. J Kelley, Author provided

We are addressing the question of which patterns are best for avoiding predators during movement using Dazzle Bug – an online game that asks players to imagine themselves as a predator, trying to catch a moving bug as fast as possible. Each bug has a different body pattern as well as a random pattern of movement. Bugs with easy to catch patterns will disappear, whereas those that are particularly tricky to catch will survive ––just like in nature. Over time, the patterns on the bugs’ body will evolve so that they become harder to catch with each successive generation.

This citizen science project will allow us to see what patterns are most effective at evading capture. We can then use these results to look at what visual effects these patterns have, and to see whether these patterns match up with those found on real animals in the wild.

Our findings will offer insight into the role of stripes, which are common in many species. While these patterns may have evolved to confuse the visual perception of a predator, they may also be a result of other selection pressures, such as attracting a mate or regulating body temperature. If striped patterns survive and evolve in the game, this would provide strong evidence that these patterns do act to confuse human predators, perhaps by producing the illusions described above. As motion perception seems to be highly conserved across a wide range of populations, these illusions may occur for many other predators too.

If we find that patterns other than stripes – such as speckles, splotches or zigzags – are most effective in preventing capture, this then leads to new and interesting questions about how these patterns may act to confuse or mislead. Whatever the outcome, Dazzle Bug will provide insight into how bodily patterns may have evolved to help animals to survive life on the go.

The ConversationLaura Kelley, Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


 The natural world is so incredibly interesting.

9 thoughts on “Animal survival.

  1. A toast to Dhalia. You’re a good man, Paul.

    I had to giggle. You guys driving off to feed a pack of strays is exactly what my wife and I do! We don’t, however, have to drive. Our area tends to be a dumping ground, and as a sort of isolated village interlinked with parks (and, thankfully, minimal traffic) we can protect the dogs (and cats) who wind up here. I have a few watering/feeding spots dotted around that i refill every day, but yes, we also drive around with a full kit of food and water in the back for things found outside our little patch.


    1. John,

      In fairness to accuracy, when Jean came across those dogs out on the road in Mexico, she and I had not yet met. We didn’t meet until December, 2007 (discovering that we had both been born Londoners and been brought up just 23 miles from each other).

      I love the way that this world of blogging reaches out to like-minded people right across the world. I am also reminded that I haven’t yet read your book and want to buy a copy soon.

      Finally, a guest post from you published in this place would be terrific. Do please consider that at some time.

      Best wishes, Paul


      1. A guest post? I’m honoured! My sister-in-law is doing a kids book called My Furry Cousins which I wrote for her. It’s a long way off for art (which she’s doing) but that could be a good one as its a tale of how we rescued all our animals, and concludes with the always important message: Don’t Shop, Adopt.

        My book might bother you, so I’d understand if you don’t read it. It’s a parody of 19th century natural theology works, but the subject matter is rather ghastly, and I don’t give away any clues that i’m, in fact, kidding.


  2. Lovely Post to read on the day of my returning to the World of Blog 🙂 And I adore that photo of your Grandson.. The spider is amazing, and I guess one must have camouflaged itself really well, as I got bitten by one this morning as I collected raspberries, I really did try to avoid some huge webs lol, but one must have took his or her revenge, judging by the lump its produced 🙂 But all part and parcel of gardening.. Just glad I do not live where there are too many venomous varieties ..
    I hope you will excuse me not catching up with ALL of you magnificent posts dear Paul.. But I hope to be here more often after my break away.. 🙂
    And please Give lovely Jean my love..
    Hugs Sue 🙂


    1. Sue, just read out aloud to Jean your sweet reply and greetings. Jean said that was very nice of you. You have a very wonderful break and don’t think about blogging for a single moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have had my break LOL… but I am over the guilt complex of catching up… 🙂 and Jean is most welcome.. You two are like friends 🙂 Have a great weekend both of you 🙂


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