The best part about having a science webcomic is that any new thing can be fodder. Take today’s comic for example: A little while back, I was called into my coworker’s office to see something. National Geographic had posted photos of one shark eating another shark whole. But not just any shark, this was a wobbegong. A wobbe-what? A woe-begone*? I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it right. More commonly known as carpet sharks (a name that applies to the entire order, not just wobbegongs) this scruffy, flounder-looking shark immediately had my attention. It was the beard-frill-thingies. Not just because I have a similar facial-bio-material configuration, but because it was so damn good. I said it immediately, “Those frills are perfect. They break up the sharks silhouette, making it practically invisible from it’s most dangerous angle.” Evolution was never more impressive.

Disruptive patterning never fails to amaze me. Throw some spots on a cheetah, and it’s immediately that much harder to spot. Militaries around the world have been taking cues from these hidden creatures ever since they figured out that wearing a bright red coat in the middle of a field made you an easy target**. You may have noticed that a while back our own military switched to that strange video game pattern. Previously, the military had been using the NATO camouflage pattern, but it turned out that using a digital snapshot of a terrain one could break up their silhouette better than ever. It works great too. I’m sure you’ve seen the photo of the soldier lying down on the couch, hidden except for his boots and exposed flesh. But it’s not as simple to design as you might think. Rick in the comments offered up this page to give you an idea of the considerations that must be taken into effect when designing multi-terrain camo. Thanks!

I’ll try to dig up some more great examples of camouflage soon—countershading, motion camo, and more. In the meantime while I was here trying to make wobbegongs fearsome and clever, somebody managed to make them adorable. Best costume ever.


Today’s post was brought to you by Molly, who showed me the Nat. Geo. Wobbegong article.

*I tried so hard to make a Garrison Keillor joke in the comic.
**I know, I know. Honor and junk.