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Keywords:

  • animal colouration;
  • background matching;
  • background selection;
  • camouflage;
  • geometrid moth;
  • predator–prey

Abstract

Cryptic colour patterns in prey are classical examples of adaptations to avoid predation, but we still know little about behaviours that reinforce the match between animal body and the background. For example, moths avoid predators by matching their colour patterns with the background. Active choice of a species-specific body orientation has been suggested as an important function of body positioning behaviour performed by moths after landing on the bark. However, the contribution of this behaviour to moths’ crypticity has not been directly measured. From observations of geometrid moths, Hypomecis roboraria and Jankowskia fuscaria, we determined that the positioning behaviour, which consists of walking and turning the body while repeatedly lifting and lowering the wings, resulted in new resting spots and body orientations in J. fuscaria and in new resting spots in H. roboraria. The body positioning behaviour of the two species significantly decreased the probability of visual detection by humans, who viewed photographs of the moths taken before and after the positioning behaviour. This implies that body positioning significantly increases the camouflage effect provided by moth’s cryptic colour pattern regardless of whether the behaviour involves a new body orientation or not. Our study demonstrates that the evolution of morphological adaptations, such as colour pattern of moths, cannot be fully understood without taking into account a behavioural phenotype that coevolved with the morphology for increasing the adaptive value of the morphological trait.