Data from: Aquatic prey use countershading camouflage to match the visual background



Exp 1 change in light and substrate:
Changes in body reflectance of fish held in tanks with varying light intensity and substrate reflectance.

Exp 2 change in light and horiz background:
Changes in body reflectance in fish held in tanks with varying light intensity and horizontal background reflectance.

Exp 1 reflectance profiles clay models:
Body reflectance of clay model fish photographed in tanks with black or white substrates.

Exp 2 reflectance profiles clay models:
Body reflectance of clay model fish held in tanks with black or white horizontal backgrounds.

An animal’s 3D form, combined with the directional lighting that is typical of many natural light environments, often results in the production of self-shadows, which may increase prey detectability to visual predators or vice versa. In terrestrial animals, countershading patterning, a luminance gradient from dark dorsal to pale ventral pigmentation, acts to counterbalance this effect by essentially reversing the distribution of light incident across the body surface. Although widespread among aquatic predators and prey, it is unclear whether countershading facilitates camouflage through elimination of self-shadows (self-shadow concealment [SSC]), enhances the match between an animal’s radiance and that of the background for multiple viewing angles (background matching [BM]), or a combination of both. We used clay models of a color-changing freshwater fish to determine the optimal patterning for SSC in different light environments, and we compared this to the skin reflectance profile of fish held under the same conditions. Fish adjusted their countershading pattern in response to changes in the light environment, but the observed reflectance profiles did not match the modeling predictions for optimal SSC. Thus fish adjusted their body pigmentation to match the viewing background rather than to conceal their ventral shadows. We suggest that different selection pressures resulting from the dissimilar characteristics of light in air and water have resulted in convergence of similar countershading phenotypes in terrestrial and aquatic prey.
Date made available14 Jun 2017


  • Countershading
  • Colour change
  • Animal colouration
  • Crypsis
  • Camouflage
  • Melanotaenia australis

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