Imperfect transparency and camouflage in glass frogs

James B Barnett*, Nicholas E Scott-Samuel, Innes C Cuthill, et al.

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
106 Downloads (Pure)


Camouflage patterns prevent detection and/or recognition by matching the background, disrupting edges, or mimicking particular background features. In variable habitats, however, a single pattern cannot match all available sites all of the time, and efficacy may therefore be reduced. Active color change provides an alternative where coloration can be altered to match local conditions, but again efficacy may be limited by the speed of change and range of patterns available. Transparency, on the other hand, creates high-fidelity camouflage that changes instantaneously to match any substrate but is potentially compromised in terrestrial environments where image distortion may be more obvious than in water. Glass frogs are one example of terrestrial transparency and are well known for their transparent ventral skin through which their bones, intestines, and beating hearts can be seen. However, sparse dorsal pigmentation means that these frogs are better described as translucent. To investigate whether this imperfect transparency acts as camouflage, we used in situ behavioral trials, visual modeling, and laboratory psychophysics. We found that the perceived luminance of the frogs changed depending on the immediate background, lowering detectability and increasing survival when compared to opaque frogs. Moreover, this change was greatest for the legs, which surround the body at rest and create a diffuse transition from background to frog luminance rather than a sharp, highly salient edge. This passive change in luminance, without significant modification of hue, suggests a camouflage strategy, “edge diffusion,” distinct from both transparency and active color change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12885-12890
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
Early online date26 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • camouflage
  • color change
  • edge diffusion
  • glass frog
  • transparency


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