Dazzled and Deceived

Dazzled and Deceived

PETER FORBES
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq8xs
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  • Book Info
    Dazzled and Deceived
    Book Description:

    Nature has perfected the art of deception. Thousands of creatures all over the world-including butterflies, moths, fish, birds, insects and snakes-have honed and practiced camouflage over hundreds of millions of years. Imitating other animals or their surroundings, nature's fakers use mimicry to protect themselves, to attract and repel, to bluff and warn, to forage, and to hide. The advantages of mimicry are obvious-but how does "blind" nature do it? And how has humanity learned to profit from nature's ploys?Dazzled and Deceivedtells the unique and fascinating story of mimicry and camouflage in science, art, warfare, and the natural world. Discovered in the 1850s by the young English naturalists Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazonian rainforest, the phenomenon of mimicry was seized upon as the first independent validation of Darwin's theory of natural selection. But mimicry and camouflage also created a huge impact outside the laboratory walls. Peter Forbes's cultural history links mimicry and camouflage to art, literature, military tactics, and medical cures across the twentieth century, and charts its intricate involvement with the perennial dispute between evolution and creationism.AsDazzled and Deceivedunravels the concept of mimicry, Forbes introduces colorful stories and a dazzling cast of characters-Roosevelt, Picasso, Nabokov, Churchill, and Darwin himself, to name a few-whom its mystery influenced and enthralled. Illuminating and lively,Dazzled and Deceivedsheds new light on the greatest quest: to understand the processes of life at its deepest level.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18178-4
    Subjects: Zoology, Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Plates
    (pp. None)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xii-xvi)
  6. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-5)

    As I write, a comma butterfly has just flown into the house, intending to hibernate. It sits motionless in the window, with its wings closed. Because it has to survive the winter without moving, it is a brilliant leaf mimic: the wings are scalloped ornately as if the margins had been nibbled, totally disrupting the typical butterfly wing pattern. Waves of mottled grey to brown spread across the wing, just like the patterns on a dead leaf, and there is a tiny crescent shape in white on each wing, like a fleck of bird’s droppings. It is a tattered leaf,...

  7. CHAPTER 1 DARWINIANS, MOCKERS AND MIMICS
    (pp. 6-30)

    Mr Bates had come a long way. For eleven years – 1848–59 – this son of a Leicester hosier had journeyed through the Brazilian Amazon: from Para (now known as Belém), 70 miles from the sea, to St Paulo, about 1,800 miles inland (Fig. 1.1). He had been robbed of his money, suffered from chronic ill health and sometimes had acute bouts of fever. He had lived by sending home, via an agent, specimens of the wildlife he encountered. Despite his hardships, he revelled in it. This is what he had dreamt of when, as a youth, he collected...

  8. CHAPTER 2 SWALLOWTAILS AND AMAZON
    (pp. 31-42)

    Alfred Russel Wallace’s Indonesian expedition (1854–62) ought to be as famous as Darwin’sBeaglevoyage. Not only did Wallace arrive at the same concept of natural selection as Darwin: two further major discoveries made the trip much more than mere collecting, although he did a lot of that too. Indonesia proved a happy hunting ground because two different sets of animals – Asiatic and Australasian – are found very close together but not mingling. The dividing line is caused by deep water, which formed a barrier to animal movement, including that of small birds. The line passes between the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 DELIGHT IN DECEPTION
    (pp. 43-56)

    The half century between Bates’s paper on mimicry and the outbreak of the First World War saw a golden age of discovery, especially by British explorers. In the reports these travellers brought back from Asia, South America and Africa there were many remarkable examples of mimicry and camouflage. The observations piled up, but there were no new insights into the how and why of nature’s penchant for copying to add to the concepts of Bates, Wallace, Darwin and Müller.

    Out of the myriad examples of mimicry, a few take pride of place for their sheer élan. One such was discovered...

  10. CHAPTER 4 PANGENESIS
    (pp. 57-70)

    As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, the mood in all of the arts and sciences changed. In physics the three-century rule of Newtonian mechanics was broken by the discovery of the quantum (the discontinuous nature of radiation) and by Einstein’s relativity; painting broke free from naturalism in violent movements which liberated colour and form – fauvism and cubism. Biology was no exception. It began to go beyond the beguiling appearances, into the deep structure of living matter. Darwin had started out as a naturalist, an observer, but he had tried very hard to become an experimental scientist. The...

  11. CHAPTER 5 ON THE WINGS OF ANGELS
    (pp. 71-84)

    In the 1890s, an eccentric, highly opinionated New England painter gate-crashed the small circle of naturalists concerned with mimicry and camouflage. Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921) – one of the few artists to have a scientific law named after him (Thayer’s Law of Concealing Coloration) – is an intriguing study in art, science and the human ego. The ‘two cultures’ divide went straight through him and caused him much distress – although, ultimately, this was more a product of his strange temperament than of any schism between art and science.

    Although his ideas were accepted by many zoologists and Poulton...

  12. CHAPTER 6 DAZZLE IN THE DOCK: THE FIRST WORLD WAR
    (pp. 85-100)

    One of the more genteel battlefronts in the two twentieth-century world wars was that between artists and naturalists for the keys to the kingdom of camouflage. Visual deception in combat begins in the natural world: the disguises of butterflies, spiders, mantises and other creatures are ploys in their struggle for survival. But the tricks of representation – creating a two-dimensional image of objects that produces the illusion of three-dimensional form – are the province of the artist. And when it came to human life-or-death war, both naturalists and artists had to convince hard-bitten military men that camouflage really could be...

  13. CHAPTER 7 CAMOUFLAGE AND CUBISM IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
    (pp. 101-112)

    If zoologists had at least put ideas forward in the war at sea, land camouflage was almost completely dominated by artists. Indeed, the distinguished marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy commented: ‘we should note that the successful camouflage officers of the two world wars were artists rather than scientists, or sometimes scientists with artistic inclinations’. His own experience seemed to bear this out: ‘I was chosen as a camouflage officer in the first world war by Solomon J. Solomon, R.A., under whom I received my training, through, as I learnt afterwards, his mistaking me for another Hardy, a professional artist who...

  14. CHAPTER 8 HOPEFUL MONSTERS?
    (pp. 113-126)

    The years between the two world wars bred many monsters of one kind or another: Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism. It was a period in which everything seemed grotesquely distorted, a period when abstraction in visual art ceded to surrealism, when the scientific revolutions of relativity and quantum physics, and the technical advances of the motor car, the aero-plane and the radio were together producing dramatically unsettling effects on society. And the starting point for the ’twenties was the collapse of empires, economic chaos and the political bitterness which resulted from the First World War.

    The war had ushered in the machine...

  15. CHAPTER 9 THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE VISUAL PUN
    (pp. 127-137)

    If Thayer was the artist who had the greatest impact on our knowledge of camouflage in the natural world, there was no doubt who was the writer of mimicry: the Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977). Nabokov’s passion for butterflies began early: ‘From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion …’ This passion was both the traditional ambition of the lepidopterist – he longed to have a new butterfly species named after him – and something more.

    Nabokov brought a hyper-refined artist’s eye to butterflies, and...

  16. CHAPTER 10 CANNIBALS AND SUNSHIELDS
    (pp. 138-169)

    The coming of war goaded the surrealist painters Roland Penrose and Julian Trevelyan into taking up camouflage as an appropriate form of war work. And for biologists, the war would once again pose the question: can the principles of camouflage in nature be applied to human combat? Naval warfare appeared pretty much the same in 1939 as it had been in 1918; but, as the Second World War loomed, one overwhelming change was in prospect. Aerial warfare had begun in the middle of the First World War: it was widely expected to dominate the new conflict. The slogan on everybody’s...

  17. CHAPTER 11 DAZZLE (REVISITED) TO D-DAY
    (pp. 170-181)

    Abbott Thayer’s and John Graham Kerr’s idea that the principles of protective coloration in nature might be applicable to the camouflaging of ships during wartime seemed to have been comprehensively dismissed by the end of the First World War. The dazzle painting system devised by Norman Wilkinson had been widely used, but with uncertain results. After the war, ships reverted to all-over grey. The Second World War began with no clear policy, and somead hoccolour schemes were devised by individual ships’ captains, but by the end of the war the principles of Thayer and Kerr had been widely...

  18. CHAPTER 12 FROM BUTTERFLIES TO BABIES AND BACK
    (pp. 182-196)

    In the October 1952 issue of theBulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society, a small ad appeared which had dramatic but benign medical consequences about fifteen years later. It was also profoundly important for the study of mimicry in butterflies. You can still read the ad today in library copies of the magazine: the small ads are printed on crudely typewritten sheets bound into an otherwise standard printed magazine. The ad read:

    Dr P. M. Sheppard (291), Genetics Laboratory, Dept. of Zoology, University Museum, Oxford, wants living eggs, larvae or pupae ofPapilio machaon(Swallowtail) from the Continent for genetic...

  19. CHAPTER 13 THE AROMAS OF MIMICRY
    (pp. 197-206)

    After Philip Sheppard, the most mimicry conscious member of Ford’s school was Miriam Rothschild (1908–2005). Officially she was not a member of Oxford University at all, but, as one of the few women Ford ever fully respected, she was very much one of his inner circle. Miriam Rothschild carried the old tradition of the amateur scientist right through into the twenty-first century. ‘Amateur’ here means amateur in the sense of Robert Boyle, Henry Cavendish, Charles Darwin and other independent scientists with no allegiance to a university or corporate structure of any kind. A member of the illustrious banking family,...

  20. CHAPTER 14 THE TINKERER’S PALETTE
    (pp. 207-220)

    At some point, after marvelling at the patterns nature is able to copy from one creature to another, it is natural to wonder about the processes which produced these resemblances. Science is the art of the soluble and, until recently, how living patterns are created, how they vary, and how they are inherited were puzzles for which the essential questions couldn’t even be framed. For Darwin himself, despite the evidence that he had carefully weighed over the twenty years between his Galapagos trip and publishingOn the Origin of Species, the speculative nature of his idea and the intangibility of...

  21. CHAPTER 15 THE HELICONIUS VARIATIONS
    (pp. 221-234)

    Heliconiusbutterflies are Mülleriann mimics: that is, they are different species wearing the same patterning – often several species grouped together in a mimicry ring – to give a standardised warning to predators that they are unpalatable. Their wing patterns are complicated: they are not geometrically regular, but have splashes of colour thrown on with artistic abandon. Think Matisse’sJazzcut-outs, with their bold yellow and black, white and blue – and red. The biologist Sir Alister Hardy (1896–1985), who was acamoufleurin the First World War, made a strong claim for butterfly wing patterns being a form...

  22. CHAPTER 16 A SHIFTING SPECTRUM
    (pp. 235-249)

    From Bates to Cott, mimicry was mostly observed in nature and described. Theory followed and, as Miriam Rothschild noted, experiment lagged a surprisingly long way behind – around 100 years in most cases. In recent work, some old stories have added new twists and some have experienced reversal. The fact that life is opportunistic, with no set goals other than to survive and reproduce – life is always, in Picasso’s words, ‘trying new things’ – means that many stories of mimicry and camouflage are more complex than was originally thought. Tracing mimicry and camouflage from the time of Bates and...

  23. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 250-255)

    Mimicry is imitation but it is also an immensely fertile, creative process. As human beings we learn, first of all, by copying. We value originality very highly, but artists know how much originality owes to imitation and to covering your tracks. T. S. Eliot was only laying bare the secrets of the trade when he said that mature poets don’t merely imitate: they steal. Or, as Elvis Costello put it, you start out trying to copy something that fascinates you, fail and, in doing so, come up with something new.

    In the Prologue I quoted the art historian Sir Ernst...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 256-272)
  25. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 273-276)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 277-284)