For science's sake, play a computer game

Nightjar camouflage computer game
Screen capture Project Nightjar

Studying the way wild animals use camouflage is hard - they move around a lot and, well, they can be hard to find.

But scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge have risen to the challenge. In addition to their field work, they've created a computer game for citizen scientists to spot camouflaged animals and eggs. As players get into the game, the scientists gather data about how effective camouflage is from habitat to habitat.

"Citizen science and online games seemed to be an ideal way to do this," Dr. Martin Stevens told us. "So far it has been very successful, we have had something like 35,000 people playing the games, and will be able to answer some exciting questions about how camouflage and vision works."

The game focuses on the nightjar, a ground nesting bird found in southern parts of Africa. Because these birds nest on the ground - an easy target for predators - camouflage is an extremely important part of survival. But the birds aren't the only ones to use camouflage, their eggs also blend into their surroundings. And since nests don't tend to move around, it's easier for scientists to keep track of.

"Camouflage is a textbook example of natural selection and adaptation and can help us to understand now evolution works, and how animals interact with one another," added Stevens. "Some animals, such as ground nesting birds have recently been shown to select backgrounds behaviourally that improve how well camouflaged they are."

The Project Nightjar game takes their scientific observations to another level - it gives them a large sample size and allows them to observe how predators' different visual systems affect how they spot prey. Ever wonder what it would be like to see through a mongoose or monkeys' eyes? Probably not, but you can find out now!

Don't be fooled by the top image, by the fourth picture, I couldn't find the bird any more. Your turn to play!

For science's sake, play a computer game
Project Nightjar: It's much harder than it looks...