Kravchuk, L., Watson, C. 2020. Corn snakes can behaviorally enhance crypsis by choosing complex backgrounds and substrate. Animal Behavior and Cognition 7(1), 39–48.

Many organisms have evolved coloration that increases their likelihood of survival. Crypsis is one such mechanism employed by many animals to avoid detection by blending into their habitat. By remaining unseen, these animals can enhance predation avoidance and prey acquisition. If an animal can recognize backgrounds and substrates that more closely match its own color and pattern within its habitat, then it could behaviorally enhance the effectiveness of crypsis and therefore further increase its own fitness. We use a common cryptic reptile, the corn snake (Pantherophis gutattus), to test whether snakes can recognize complexity and shade of their habitat and then position their body in substrates or on backgrounds that maximize concealment as perceived by a human. We use equal-options choice trials to determine two-dimensional background choice and pairwise comparisons to determine the hierarchy of choice among three-dimensional substrates. We show that corn snakes tend to choose more complex backgrounds and substrates while avoiding the high contrast of solid-white backgrounds. This indicates that these organisms seek out areas where their cryptic color and pattern are most effective.

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