Disruptive camouflage impairs object recognition

Whether hiding from predators, or avoiding battlefield casualties, camouflage is widely employed to prevent detection. Disruptive coloration is a seemingly well-known camouflage mechanism proposed to function by breaking up an object's salient features (for example their characteristic outline), rendering objects more difficult to recognize. However, while a wide range of animals are thought to evade detection using disruptive patterns, there is no direct experimental evidence that disruptive coloration impairs recognition. Using humans searching for computer-generated moth targets, we demonstrate that the number of edge-intersecting patches on a target reduces the likelihood of it being detected, even at the expense of reduced background matching. Crucially, eye-tracking data show that targets with more edge-intersecting patches were looked at for longer periods prior to attack, and passed-over more frequently during search tasks. We therefore show directly that edge patches enhance survivorship by impairing recognition, confirming that disruptive coloration is a distinct camouflage strategy, not simply an artefact of background matching.