Hunters aren’t the only ones that recognize the value of good camouflage, it has become a necessary component of survival for a species of quail. A new study published in Current Biology suggests that Japanese quails have developed a knack for strategically placing their eggs in environments that make the best use of shell coloring to outwit passersby. As bird hunters can attest, quails can be quite cunning.
Quail eggs are tasty snacks for a variety of predators, so their shells have adopted a spotty, dirt colored pattern. Not all the eggs are uniform in color and some receive less pattering than others, leaving them vulnerable against darker environments. The study by George Lovell and his team reveal that Japanese quail use this to their advantage, placing the lighter colored, less patterned eggs in similar-looking backgrounds, while darker, spottier eggs are placed near dark soil.
Lovell and his fellow researchers tested this theory by offering pregnant quails several shades of sand to lay eggs on, and whenever the spotting covered more than 30% of the shell, the quail chose the darker colors to nest. This kind of camouflage is termed “disruptive coloration,” not unlike the camo that many hunters sport. The pattering serves to disrupt the outline of the egg, fooling any would-be breakfasters.
Japanese, or coturnix, quails hatch from their eggs at about two and a half weeks.