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Cultural evolution of military camouflage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160351
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1724
Early online date22 May 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Dec 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2017
DatePublished (current) - 5 Jul 2017


While one has evolved and the other been consciously created, animal and military camouflage are expected to show many similar design principles. Using a unique database of calibrated photographs of camouflage uniform patterns, processed using texture and colour analysis methods from computer vision, we show that the parallels with biology are deeper than design for effec- tive concealment. Using two case studies we show that, like many animal colour patterns, military camouflage can serve multiple functions. Following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, countries that became more Western- facing in political terms converged on NATO patterns in camouflage texture and colour. Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the resulting states diverged in design, becoming more similar to neighbouring countries than the ancestral design. None of these insights would have been obtained using extant military approaches to camouflage design, which focus solely on concealment. Moreover, our computational techniques for quantifying pattern offer new tools for comparative biologists studying animal coloration.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Animal coloration: production, perception, function and application’.

    Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception

    Research areas

  • Military camouflage, Defensive coloration, Cultural evolution, Texture analysis

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    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via The Royal Society at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 1.94 MB, PDF document


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