Hugh B. Cott
|Hugh B. Cott|
|Courtesy of Selwyn College, Cambridge|
July 6, 1900|
|Died||April 18, 1987
Stoke Abbott, Dorset
|Alma mater||Selwyn College;
University of Glasgow
|Doctoral advisor||John Graham Kerr|
|Known for||Camouflage, Countershading|
Hugh B. Cott (Ashby Magna, Leicestershire, 6 July 1900 – 18 April 1987, Stoke Abbott, Dorset), born Hugh Bamford Cott, was a British zoologist, an authority on both natural and military camouflage, and a scientific illustrator and photographer. Many of his field studies took place in Africa, where he was especially interested in the Nile crocodile.
During the Second World War, Cott worked as a camouflage expert for the British Army and helped to influence War Office policy on camouflage. His 1940 book Adaptive Coloration in Animals, popular among serving soldiers, was the major textbook on camouflage in zoology of the twentieth century. After the war he became a Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Cott was born in Leicestershire, England, on 6 July 1900. He was schooled at Rugby. In 1919, he graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst into the Leicestershire Regiment. Between 1922 and 1925, he studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge. In 1938, he became Doctor of Science at the University of Glasgow (Scotland) under another advocate of military camouflage, John Graham Kerr. Cott served in the British Army as a camouflage expert from 1919–1922, and, during World War II, as a camouflage instructor from 1939–1945. Cott was chief instructor at the Camouflage Development and Training Camp at Helwan, Egypt, under filmmaker Geoffrey Barkas from its inception in November 1941.
In the years following World War I, Cott travelled to South America, where he studied natural forms in eastern Brazil, and on the lower Amazon. He also went on research trips to the Canary Islands, and Africa, including Mozambique, Zambia and East Africa. As a zoologist, he was a lecturer at Bristol University, 1928–1932; a lecturer at Glasgow University, 1932–1938; Strickland Curator of Birds at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology and Lecturer in Zoology at Cambridge University, 1938–1967. Cott became a Fellow of Selwyn College in 1945.
Camouflage research 
As a military camouflage expert during the Second World War, Cott likened the functions of military camouflage with those of protective coloration in nature. The three main categories of coloration in his book Adaptive Coloration in Animals are concealment, disguise, and advertisement. He studied, described and presented examples of such diverse camouflage effects as obliterative shading, disruption, differential blending, high contrast, coincident disruption, concealment of the eye, contour obliteration, shadow elimination, and mimicry. In his wartime lectures at Farnham Castle, he described nine categories of visual deception:
- merging, e.g. hare, polar bear
- disruption, e.g. ringed plover
- disguise, e.g. stick insect
- mis-direction, e.g. butterfly and fish eyespots
- dazzle, e.g. some grasshoppers
- decoy, e.g. angler fish
- smokescreen, e.g. cuttlefish
- the dummy, e.g. flies, ants
- false display of strength, e.g. toads, lizards
Cott's account of all this (illustrated by his own pen and ink drawings) is Adaptive Coloration in Animals. This 550-page classic continues to be one of the finest, most comprehensive discussions of the subject. His co-workers' first-hand accounts of his work in military camouflage can be found in the memoirs of two of his fellow camoufleurs: Julian Trevelyan and Roland Penrose.
Peter Forbes wrote of Cott's book:
Cott's Adaptive Coloration in Animals must be the only compendious zoology tract ever to be packed in a soldier's kitbag. The book also marks the apotheosis of the descriptive natural history phase of mimicry studies. Although Cott does report experiments on predation to test the efficacy of mimicry and camouflage, the book is essentially a narrative of examples plus theory.
In the sense of being a narrative, Adaptive Coloration could be thought obsolete, but Forbes continues:
But Cott's book is still valuable today for its enormous range, for its passionate exposition of the theories of mimicry and camouflage..
Cott worked to persuade the British army to use more effective camouflage techniques, including countershading. For example, in August 1940, with the Battle of Britain imminent, he painted two rail-mounted coastal guns, one in conventional style, one countershaded. In aerial photographs, the countershaded gun is essentially invisible. Cott was triumphant, announcing:
These photographs furnish most convincing proof of the effectiveness of countershading, and are especially valuable in that we have in them a direct comparison between the two methods.
Cott was a founding member of the Society of Wildlife Artists, and a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. From material gathered in field expeditions, he made contributions to the Cambridge University zoological museum.
Cott possessed considerable artistic skill. Like Abbott Thayer, he used his artistry in his scientific work, including in Adaptive Coloration in Animals, to help argue the case he was making. For example, his black-and-white potoo shows this rainforest bird sitting motionless on a mottled tree trunk, its behaviour and disruptive pattern combining to provide effective camouflage. David Rothenburg wrote of Cott's art:
Back to Hugh Cott's marvelous engraving of a potoo hidden in a black and white Costa Rican forest, frozen vertically like the tree trunk on which it hides. In nature the visible and invisible dance back and forth with each other, depending on how much we have learned to see.The science and art of this magic merge into one at the moment we grasp it.
The journalist and author Peter Forbes praised Cott's balance of science and artistry:
..in the conflict between artists and biologists, he was both. Cott was a competent illustrator as well as a biologist. Without having Nabokov's precisianism and anti-Darwinism, he brought an artistic sensibility to bear on these phenomena. His text is radiant with the wonder of these adaptations..
The study of animal coloration and associated anti-predator adaptations has a long history... this field of research has been blessed from the earliest years with the insights of particularly gifted scientists. The writings of Wallace, Bates, Müller, Poulton and Cott truly stand up to the test of time: these individuals deserve even better renown not just as great natural historians but as exceptional scientists too.—Ruxton, Sherratt and Speed, 2004. p. 200.
In addition to Adaptive Coloration in Animals, Cott wrote two essays on camouflage: “Camouflage in nature and in war” in the Royal Engineers Journal (December 1938), pp501–517; and ”Animal form in relation to appearance” in Lancelot Law Whyte, ed. Aspects of form: a symposium on form in nature and art (London: Percy Lund Humphries, 1951). As a scientific illustrator and photographer, he also wrote three other books: Zoological photography in practice (1956); Uganda in black and white (1959); and Looking at animals: a zoologist in Africa (1975).
- Cott, Hugh B (1940). Adaptive Coloration in Animals. Methuen.
- Cott, Hugh B (1975). Looking at Animals: a Zoologist in Africa. Scribner.
- Forbes, Peter (2009). Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage. Yale. ISBN 0-300-12539-9
- Penrose, Roland (1981). Scrapbook 1900–1981. Thames and Hudson.
- Ruxton, G. D.; Speed, M. P.; Sherratt, T. N. (2004). Avoiding Attack. The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals and Mimicry. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-852860-4
- Trevelyan, Julian (1957). Indigo days. MacGibbon and Kee.
- "Papers of Hugh Cott". SEPP/COT (formerly HC/1-2). Janus. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- London Gazette 26 January 1920. Cott is in the Leicestershire Regiment.
- "Hugh Bamford Cott". University of Glasgow. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
- Forbes, Peter. (2009) Pages 155-156.
- Forbes, Peter. (2009) Page 152-3. Farnham Lecture No. 5.
- Cott, Hugh. (1940)
- Trevelyan, Julian. (1957)
- Penrose, Roland. (1981)
- Forbes, Peter. (2009) Page 153.
- Forbes, Peter. (2009) Pages 149-150.
- Rothenburg, David (2011). Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution. Bloomsbury. p. 167.
- Janus: Cott's papers
- Archives Hub: Cott's own copies of books, with personal annotations, at Cambridge University Museum of Zoology
- University of Glasgow Story: Hugh Bamford Cott