New research done on ground-nesting Japanese quail has revealed that they are incredibly adept at camouflaging their eggs. The quails actually seem to know the specific individual patterning of their eggs before they lay them, and them lay them in the most appropriate spot to match the patterning.
Quail eggs feature an enormous variety of different patterning, some patterning more suited to certain environments than others, so the ability does seem that it would have significant upsides.
“Not only are the eggs camouflaged, but the birds choose to lay their eggs on a substrate that maximizes camouflage,” said P. George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St Andrews. “Furthermore, the maximization seems specific to individual birds.”
Karen Spencer, also of University of St Andrews and a co-author, “had earlier noticed that female quail lay eggs that vary a lot in appearance, and that those differences are repeatable. Some birds consistently lay eggs covered in dark spots; others have many fewer spots or, in some cases, almost none at all.”
“That pattern led the researchers to an intriguing idea: that birds might make optimal egg-laying choices based on the special characteristics of their own eggs. To find out, they gave female quail in the lab a choice between four different backgrounds on which to lay their eggs.”
“Those choice experiments revealed that most quail mothers lay their eggs on background colors to match the spots on their eggs. That’s an effective strategy known as disruptive coloration, in which contrasting patterns on surfaces make the outline of an object harder to detect. Birds laying eggs with little patterning instead choose lighter surfaces to match the predominant background color of their eggs.”
What the researchers found, suggests “that quail in the wild lower the chance that their eggs will be found and eaten by predators through careful decision-making, the researchers say.”
“Animals make choices based upon their knowledge of the environment and their own phenotype to maximize their ability to reproduce and survive,” Lovell said. “In this specific case, birds know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will minimize predation.”
The new research was just published January 17th in the journal Current Biology.
Here’s some more information on quails:
“Quail is a collective name for several genera of mid-sized birds generally considered in the order Galliformes. Old World quail are found in the family Phasianidae, and New World quail are found in the family Odontophoridae. The buttonquail are not quail at all, are named more for their superficial resemblance to quail, and are members of the Turnicidae family, more closely related to the Charadriiformes. The King Quail, a member of the Old World quail, is often sold in the pet trade; and within this trade is commonly referred to as a ‘button quail’. Many of the common larger species are farm-raised for table food or egg consumption, and are hunted on game farms or in the wild, where they are sometimes artificially stocked to supplement the wild population, or extend into areas they are normally not found naturally.”
Source: Cell Press
Image Credits: Lovell et al., Current Biology, Cedric Zimmer