Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    Of the many visual characteristics of animals, countershading (darker pigmentation on those surfaces exposed to the most lighting) is one of the most common, and paradoxically one of the least well understood. Countershading has been hypothesized to reduce the detectability of prey to visually hunting predators, and while the function of a countershaded colour pattern was proposed over 100 years ago, the field has progressed slowly; convincing evidence for the protective effects of countershading has only recently emerged. Several mechanisms have been invoked for the concealing function of countershading and are discussed in this review, but the actual mechanisms by which countershading functions to reduce attacks by predators lack firm empirical testing. While there is some subjective evidence that countershaded animals match the background on which they rest, no quantitative measure of background matching has been published for countershaded animals; I now present the first such results. Most studies also fail to consider plausible alternative explanations for the colour pattern, such as protection from UV or abrasion, and thermoregulation. This paper examines the evidence to support each of these possible explanations for countershading and discusses the need for future empirical work.