While one has evolved and the other been consciously created, animal and military camouflage are expected to show many similar design principles. Using a unique database of calibrated photographs of camouflage uniform patterns, processed using texture and colour analysis methods from computer vision, we show that the parallels with biology are deeper than design for effective concealment. Using two case studies we show that, like many animal colour patterns, military camouflage can serve multiple functions. Following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, countries that became more Western-facing in political terms converged on NATO patterns in camouflage texture and colour. Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the resulting states diverged in design, becoming more similar to neighbouring countries than the ancestral design. None of these insights would have been obtained using extant military approaches to camouflage design, which focus solely on concealment. Moreover, our computational techniques for quantifying pattern offer new tools for comparative biologists studying animal coloration.This article is part of the themed issue 'Animal coloration: production, perception, function and application'.
Keywords: cultural evolution; defensive coloration; military camouflage; texture analysis.
© 2017 The Author(s).