Progressive background in moths, and a quantitative measure of crypsis



A method is presented for quantitative estimation of the degree of crypsis of species seen by visual predators against known backgrounds. It is based upon a comparison between transects taken across animal and background colour patterns. The method was applied to day-resting moths in deciduous forest in New Jersey. Each species is found for two to four weeks at characteristic dates, and there is a constant turnover of species. In both moths and backgrounds there is a regular change in the colour pattern parameters from winter through spring to early summer. Moths are on average more cryptic at their normal dates than they would be if present earlier or later in the year. Species with known resting sites are on average more cryptic on their resting sites than other background habitats. Species that rest on more than one background habitat are less cryptic on their preferred habitats than are specialists. Species that rest under leaves and are not visible from above are not very cryptic. Specific v. general resemblance, disruptive coloration, and factors affecting ‘aspect diversity’ are discussed. The new method of estimating crypsis is useful for studies of crypsis as well as in sexual selection. It is necessary to know much about the resting sites and behaviour of moths, as well as other functions of colour patterns, to understand colour pattern evolution.