By Wendy Langhans
Sometimes an idea is too good not to borrow. Take, for example, the concept of signal-to-noise ratio. Audiophiles are only too familiar with a low S/N ratio - the annoying hiss, crackle, and static that disrupts their favorite piece of music. But others, included graphic designers, have “borrowed” this mathematical equation from electrical engineering and turned it into a metaphor for describing mis-communication . “All communication is a chain of creation, transmission, and reception of information. At each step along the way, the useful information—the signal—is degraded by extraneous or irrelevant information: the noise.”
Biologists have also borrowed this mis-communications metaphor: what happens when a creature CHOOSES to degrade or manipulate their visual signal? In other words, when a plant or animal wants to hide?
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Visually, there are three ways  of doing this.
Crypsis. Coloration and patterns match the surroundings or break up the visual outline of the organism. Minimize the signal-to-noise ratio. In other words, hide in plain sight. Notice how the color, patterns and edges help this Western fence lizard blend into the rocky background.
Disruptive coloration. A combination of cryptic and conspicuous colors and patterns that distract or misdirect the predator. Keep the signal-to-noise ratio high - but only in in selected areas. In other words, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. Look at the mottled light/shadow patterns on this Anise Swallowtail. Then notice the blue patch and tails. Could they be misdirecting a predator away from the butterfly’s head?
Masquerade. A high signal-to-noise reation allows the organism to be detected by the predator. However, the signal is misleading and results in the organism being mis-identified as inedible or dangerous. For example, this Broadwinged katydid can be easily spotted. But it resembles a leaf and is not very appealing to a meat-eating predator.
Manipulating the signal-to-noise ratio allows animals to hide in plain sight, or misdirect or even mis-lead each other. I can think of all sorts of ways that humans do the same thing, can’t you?
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, March 12, 6 -8 PM, Star Stories at Towsley Canyon. We’ll be taking a journey on the celestial sidewalk of fame. It features mythological heroes, fierce animals, navigating guides and some pretty outstanding star-light from a few million years ago. Bring a blanket or tarp to lay on and bundle up warm. Meet at the front parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here .
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, February 2, 9, 16, 23 & March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30.
Saturday mornings, February 12, 26 & March 12, 26.
For a glimpse of our local flowering plants, check out the Facebook page, “90 Days of Santa Clarita Valley Wildflowers ”.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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