Japanese Quails Know the Color of their Eggs

This study seems to suggest that quails know what their eggs look like and that they adapt their behavior to match the color of the substrate to their eggs. While quail population varies on the level of spotting (maculation) they will choose to place their eggs in the area that best matches that coloration.

Current Biology, 17 January 2013


Egg-Laying Substrate Selection for Optimal Camouflage by Quail


  • Maculation on eggs provides disruptive coloration
  • Individuals vary in maculation but lay where camouflage is most effective
  • For high maculation, birds lay on a substrate matching the maculation of the egg
  • Where maculation is low, the birds adopt a background matching strategy


Camouflage is conferred by background matching and disruption, which are both affected by microhabitat [1]. However, microhabitat selection that enhances camouflage has only been demonstrated in species with discrete phenotypic morphs [2,3]. For most animals, phenotypic variation is continuous [4,5]; here we explore whether such individuals can select microhabitats to best exploit camouflage. We use substrate selection in a ground-nesting bird (Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica). For such species, threat from visual predators is high [6] and egg appearance shows strong between-female variation [7]. In quail, variation in appearance is particularly obvious in the amount of dark maculation on the light-colored shell [8]. When given a choice, birds consistently selected laying substrates that made visual detection of their egg outline most challenging. However, the strategy for maximizing camouflage varied with the degree of egg maculation. Females laying heavily maculated eggs selected the substrate that more closely matched egg maculation color properties, leading to camouflage through disruptive coloration. For lightly maculated eggs, females chose a substrate that best matched their egg background coloration, suggesting background matching. Our results show that quail “know” their individual egg patterning and seek out a nest position that provides most effective camouflage for their individual phenotype.


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