When it comes to camouflage, ground-nesting Japanese quail are experts. That’s based on new evidence published online on January 17 in Current Biology that mother quail “know” the patterning of their own eggs and choose laying spots to hide them best.
“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.