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Last Updated: Mon Aug 4 05:36:56 UTC 2014

Deception in Biology
Nature's Exploitation of Information to Win Survival Contests

Dr Carlo Kopp, AFAIAA,
SMIEEE, PEng
October, 2011
Updated December, 2012; February, 2014
 
2011 - 2014 Carlo Kopp



Ambush predators frequently evolve elaborate disruptive camouflage patterns to conceal themselves from prey as they lie in wait, or patiently stalk to position for an attack. This Sumatran Tiger presents an excellent example of the Degradation Strategy as the camouflage reduces the signal to noise ratio in visual detection (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).

Keywords: Deception, Information Warfare, Borden-Kopp Model, Canonical Strategies, Biology, Organism

Information Warfare (deception) is frequently seen as a ‘modern’ phenomenon, an extension of often historical techniques of conflict into the ‘infosphere’, consistent with the Toffler model of postindustrial age societies ‘digitising’ their economies, governments and militaries.

This widely accepted view reflects an implicit association between many of the techniques of Information Warfare, such as Cyber War, PsyWar, Electronic Attack, the supporting environment defined by Moore’s Law and the phenomenon of Information Warfare itself.

Accordingly, it is often argued, if the phenomenon of Information Warfare is a property of the means used to implement it, then surely it is by nature a contemporary of these means? As the means of implementing Information Warfare are modern, it must therefore be a modern phenomenon.

This argument can be proven to be a basic fallacy. Information Warfare can be shown to be a very fundamental survival technique which has been and is widely used by biological organisms of unusually diverse species.

It therefore follows that the novelty in Information Warfare is wholly in the eye of a beholder. The only novel aspect of the natural phenomenon of Information Warfare is our understanding of it.

Kopp and Mills, 2002:

‘Nature is clearly abundant in instances where one or more of the four canonical strategies of Information Warfare have evolved as survival aids. Against the three test criteria we defined to establish that these strategies are indeed evolved features of species, even a cursory browsing of several respectable texts has yielded a large package of examples.

It takes little effort to conclude that the hypothesis of ‘Information Warfare being an evolved survival mechanism in nature’ can be proved by a large number of examples.

While instances of the four canonical strategies of Information Warfare in nature may be of little practical relevance to the development of Information Warfare as a modern discipline, they do substantiate the position that Information Warfare is a very fundamental paradigm, which has been part of nature for hundreds of millions of years.’



Shannon's Information Theory and Deception





If a message contains information, an entity receiving it and understanding it will experience a state change which alters its level of uncertainty. The less likely the message, the greater its information content H(X), which is articulated in Shannon’s entropy theorem:

The relationship of most interest in the context of Deception is Shannon’s channel capacity theorem. It states that the capacity of a channel to carry information depends on the magnitude of interfering noise in the channel, and the bandwidth of the channel:

If an attacker intends to manipulate the flow of information to an advantage, the game will always revolve around controlling the usable capacity of the channel, C.

To achieve this, the attacker must manipulate the remaining variables in the equation, bandwidth, W, and signal power versus noise power, P/N.

Three of the four canonical strategies involve direct manipulation of bandwidth, signal power and noise.

The degradation strategy thus involves manipulation of the P/N term in Shannon’s equation. The flow of information between the source and destination is impaired or even stopped by burying the signal in noise and driving C→0.

There are two forms of this strategy, the first being the ‘camouflage/stealth’ or ‘passive’ form, the second being the ‘jamming’ or ‘active’ form.

The first form involves forcing P→0 to force C→0. In effect the signal is made so faint it cannot be distinguished from the noise floor of the receiver. The second form involves the injection of an interfering signal into the channel, to make N>>P and thus force C→0. In effect the interfering signal drowns out the real signal flowing across the channel.

There is an important distinction between the active and passive forms of the degradation strategy. In the passive form of this attack, the victim will most likely be unaware of the attack, since the signal is submerged in noise and cannot be detected. This form is therefore ‘covert’ in the sense that no information is conveyed to the victim. In the active form of this attack, the signal which jams or interferes with the messages carried by the channel will be detected by the victim. Therefore this form is ‘overt’ in the sense that information is conveyed to the victim, telling the victim that an attack on the channel is taking place.

Both forms are widely used in biological survival contests and in social conflicts.

The corruption strategy involves the substitution of a valid message in the channel with a deceptive message, created to mimic the appearance of a real message. In terms of the Shannon equation, Pactual is replaced with Pmimic, while the W and N terms remain unimpaired. The victim receiver cannot then distinguish the deception from a real message, and accepts corrupted information as the intended information. Success requires that the deceptive message emulates the real message well enough to deceive the victim. Corruption is inherently ‘covert’ since it fails in the event of detection by the victim receiver. Corruption is used almost as frequently as degradation in biological, military and social conflicts.

The degradation and corruption strategies both focus on the P and N terms in the Shannon capacity equation.

The denial via destruction strategy manipulates the W term, by effecting an attack on the transmission link or receiver to deny the reception of any messages, this by removing the means of providing bandwidth W.

This means that W→0 or W=0 if the attack is effective.

The denial via destruction strategy is inherently ‘overt’ in that the victim will know of the attack very quickly, as the channel or receiver is being attacked. A denial attack may be temporary or persistent in effect, depending on how the channel or receiver is attacked. Numerous biological, military and social examples exist.

Denial via subversion differs from the first three strategies in that it does not involve an attack on the message, its contents or the channel/receiver. Subversive attacks involve the insertion of information which triggers a self destructive process in the victim system or organism. Good examples exist in the biological, military and social domains. It is typically supported by a corruption attack to gain access.















Kopp, Carlo; Mills, Bruce, Information Warfare And Evolution, Conference Paper, Proceedings of the 3rd Australian Information Warfare & Security Conference 2002.

Abstract (HTML) / Lecture Slides (PDF) / Conference Slides (PDF) / Full Paper (PDF)

Shannon C.E. A mathematical theory of communication. Bell System Technical Journal, 27:379–423 and 623–656, July and October, 1948. Full Paper (PDF)

Degradation Strategy

Degradation or Destruction [also Denial of Information], i.e. concealment and camouflage, or stealth; Degradation or Destruction amounts to making the signal sufficiently noise-like, that a receiver cannot discern its presence from that of the noise in the channel. Degradation attacks can be further divided into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ forms, depending on whether the attacker generates the signal, or hides the signal.

In biological systems the
‘passive’ form of Degradation, camouflage, is by far the most frequent strategy employed, by both predators and prey.



North Chinese Leopard. Leopards evolved disruptive patterns designed to provide concealment in foliage, the pattern is effective in grasslands and rainforests (Public Domain by Marie-Lan Nguyen / Nikon D70).



Persian Leopard at Melbourne Zoo. Indigenous to the Caucasus, Turkey and Persia, these leopards evolved a much lighter coat to better adapt to the local environment (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Snow Leopards evolved a light grey coat which is very effective disruptive camouflage in Central Asian mountainous terrain, dominated by grey rock formations. This example resides at Melbourne Zoo
(Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).





The Cheetah is another ambush predator, which dashes from cover to run down its prey. It evolved a spotted disruptive camouflage pattern, very effective in grasslands. Depicted example at Werribee Zoo in Victoria (Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).





This image of a Sumatran Tiger shows the effectiveness of the Degradation Strategy as the characteristic striped disruptive camouflage emulates the shadows cast by foliage (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



The African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) is the ancestor of the domestic housecat
(Felis silvestris catus), proven by the analysis of mitochondrial DNA (Driscoll et al, Science 317: 519–523). The disruptive camouflage patterns of these felines vary from tabby-like patterns, to more subdued and almost uniform coats, with tabby-like facial, tail and leg patterns. The habitat for the species in mostly grassland and brush, for which these patterns are well adapted (Sonelle, Creative Commons Licence).



European domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) are descended from North African Wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris/lybica), and the typical mackerel tabby pattern is shared by both, as well as European Wildcats. The pattern is seen with variations in coat colour, but is typically effective in grass, other foliage and woodland terrain
(Images 2009 Carlo Kopp).





The effectiveness of any camouflage depends on the sensor it is intended to defeat. Rodents are the main diet of small felines, and rodents often have Red/Green deficient colour perception. Rats and mice have colour peaks at 359-360 nm in the near UV and 509-512 nm in the blue-green (Jacobs G.H. et al, 2001 & 2004). This image shows a classical mackerel tabby cat in the Red/Green/Blue colour bands, top, with suppressed Red/Green and enhanced Yellow/Blue bands, centre, and in monochrome, bottom
(Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).







Black cats, whether large or small, frequently display the same camouflage patterns as spotted or striped cats, but very subdued
(Image 2009 Carlo Kopp).



The African lion is unusual amongst the great cats in lacking a disruptive camouflage pattern. These examples are at Werribee Zoo
(Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Sekor C 45 mm f/2.8N + Fotodiox Pro adaptor / D90).



The African Wild Dog is unusual amongst the canids in employing a disruptive camouflage pattern. These examples are at Werribee Zoo (Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).






Above: Eastern Grey Kangaroo at Melbourne Zoo; Below: A wild Eastern Grey Kangaroo at Cardinia Reservoir. The subdued grey or red brown coats of kangaroos are similar to other herbivores and intended to minimise contrast against typical backgrounds (Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).





The red-brown coats commonly seen in kangaroo species are a direct adaptation to the red dust and rock in Northern and Central Australia. Depicted a Barrow Island Euro (Image 1979 Carlo Kopp; Exakta VX500 / Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm f2.8).



The Giraffe's disruptive camouflage pattern emulates the shadow cast by tree foliage, which is a good adaptation to the environment they survive in. This is clearly intended to disrupt visual acquisition at long ranges (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Mantids are classical ambush predators which lie in wait for prey. They have evolved diverse camouflage to adapt to local environments, emulating most frequently forms of foliage (photo by Alex Wild).



The Australian Burying Mantid Sphodropoda tristis, like many of its cousins globally, is exquisitely camouflaged to hide on dry bark (Images 2011 Peter Chen).





The predatory West Australian Leafy Sea Dragon evolved a shape which emulates the sea grass which forms its habitat. This example is at the Acquarium of Western Australia (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).



Ulysses Swallowtail at Melbourne Zoo. The iridescent turquoise upper wings evolved for mating displays, but the lower wings perform well as disruptive camouflage when the butterfly is resting (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Moths are nocturnal, and typically evolve effective camouflage to effect concealment from daylight predators (Image 2007 Carlo Kopp; Fuji S5600).



The nocturnal Australian Tawny Frogmouth is camouflaged to resemble tree bark, and when threatened, remains perfectly still to confuse a predator. This example is at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Male and female Australian Wood Ducks at Melbourne Zoo. Female birds are frequently well camouflaged to minimise the probability of a nest being discovered by predators or scavengers (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).





The Buff Banded Rail employs a linear striped disruptive pattern which emulates the contrast pattern in grass, where the species frequently forages (Image 2011 Chris Mills / Panasonic DMC-ZS7).



Many species of parrot are highly regarded for their distinctive and bright plumage. What is less obvious is that these frequently very bright patterns present excellent disruptive camouflage in some types of foliage, such as rainforest or eucalypt forest treetops. Above and below: Rainbow Lorikeets foraging for nectar in a suburban eucalypt tree. The purpose of the blue colour of the bird's head is apparent in the upper image, as it reduces contrast against a tropical summer sky when the bird raises its head to scan for predators (Image 2011-2014 Carlo Kopp; Sigma AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro, Sigma AF 400mm f/5.6 APO and Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED  / D90 or D7100).




Above and below: Rainbow Lorikeets destroying fruit in a Melbourne suburban plum tree. The camouflage is equally effective in fruit trees, as it is in eucalypts (Images 2012 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Click to enlarge image

Musk Lorikeets foraging in a eucalypt at Monash Uni Clayton Campus. The camouflage is almost perfectly adapted to the habitat (Image 2012 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

A nectar eating Musk Lorikeet foraging in a eucalypt at Monash Uni Clayton Campus (Image 2012 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G / D90).



Reptiles frequently evolve elaborate camouflage. Depicted a predatory South American Green Tree Boa at Melbourne Zoo (Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Sekor C 45 mm f/2.8N + Fotodiox Pro adaptor / D90).



The Coastal Taipan, above and below, evolved a subdued camouflage well suited to the undergrowth in which it hunts its prey
(Images 2011 Carlo Kopp; Sekor C 45 mm f/2.8N + Fotodiox Pro adaptor / D90).





Arboreal Eyelash Vipers from the rainforests of Latin America are very diverse in their disruptive camouflage patterns, this example is at Melbourne Zoo. They are typical ambush predators
(Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).



Herbivorous Common Iguana at Melbourne Zoo (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Sekor C 45 mm f/2.8N + Fotodiox Pro adaptor / D90).



Gila Monster with distinctive high contrast disruptive pattern, at Melbourne Zoo (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).



Dragons comprise a respectable number of species, a large portion of which employ disruptive pattern camouflage
(Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).



The predatory Perentie monitors of Northern Australia display distinctive spotted disruptive camouflage patterns well adapted to their habitats. Above and below, Barrow Island Varanus giganteus (Images 1979 Carlo Kopp; Exakta VX500 / Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm f/2.8).





The Lace Monitor Varanus varius, above and below, is closely related to the Perentie yet has evolved distinct banded disruptive camouflage patterns, in two different forms, reflecting different habitats (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).







The Green Sea Turtle is well camouflaged for it aquatic habitat (Image 1979 Carlo Kopp; Exakta VX500 / Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm f/2.8).



Bottom dwelling fish frequently evolve effective caouflage for such habitats. Above Three Shovel Nose Rays basking in 6 inch deep tidal flats, Below a Stingaree and pair of Stingrays, all photographed on Barrow Island (Images 1979 Carlo Kopp; Exakta VX500 / Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm f/2.8).





Corruption Strategy
Corruption [also Deception and Mimicry], i.e. the insertion of intentionally misleading information; corruption amounts to mimicking a known signal so well, that a receiver cannot distinguish the deceptive signal from the real signal.

Mimicry arises frequently in biology, the best examples being harmless organisms which masquerade as toxic or predatory organisms, to deter predators.




An outstanding example of wasp mimicry is this Orange Wasp Moth (Cosmosoma ethodaea), photographed by Alex Wild at the Maquipucuna reserve, Pichincha, Ecuador. Wasp mimicry is surprisingly common in tropical day moths  and there are many wasp mimics evolved in the Arctiid family. The depicted species displays mimicry in shaping, colour, and transparent wing membranes (photos by Alex Wild).





The Australian White Antenna Wasp Moth (Amata nigriceps) is another Arctiid wasp mimic. This example was photographed in Brisbane (Image 2011 Peter Chen).



An interesting wasp mimic is the Scaphura katydid. The Hiranetis braconoformis assassin bug (above) produces a remarkably good imitation of the Monogonogastra braconid wasp ( American Museum of Natural History / Discover Life ).



Another outstanding wasp mimic is the Bottlebrush Sawfly (Phylacteophaga cinctus), which is a close relative of wasps, bees and ants. This species emulates the common australian native potter wasps in colour and shaping features  (Image 2014 Carlo Kopp; Sigma AF 105mm f/2.8 DG EX Macro / D7100).



The common yellow/black striped pattern employed by wasps and bees is intended to warn predators, and would qualify as non-deceptive Mullerian mimicry
(Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED / D90).



Ant mimicry is like wasp mimicry, a commonly evolved defensive feature, seen in a number of bugs, beetles, katydids and spiders. An example are nymphs of the Australian Riptortus serripes pod sucking bug, which emulate ants to discourage predators (Image 2011 Peter Chen).



The Australian Myrmarachne jumping spider mimics the Golden Ant (Image 2011 Peter Chen).

Some other interesting examples of ant mimicry can be found at Peter Chen's Myrmecomorphy webpage.



The Australian Death Adder uses its tail as a lure to seduce prey into striking range. Its concurrent use of a disruptive camouflage pattern presents as a compound use of Degradation and Corruption strategies (Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).


Denial Strategy [Disruption]
Denial [also Disruption and Destruction], i.e. the insertion of information which produces a dysfunction inside the opponent’s system; alternately the outright destruction of the victim receiver subsystem; Denial via disruption or destruction amounts to injecting so much noise into the channel, that the receiver cannot demodulate the signal, or rendering the receiver permanently or temporarily inoperative.








Anisomorpha buprestoides. This North American walking stick insect will spray an irritant fluid into the eyes of a predator if threatened. (Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services).



Aptly named, stink bugs emit a noxious fluid when threatened, which disables the attacker's olfactory organ, denying its use in hunting the stink bug. Above is the Phyllota Stink Bug (Ocirrhoe dallasi), below the Green Jewel Bug (Lampromicra senator), both found in Brisbane, Australia
(Images 2011 Peter Chen).





Many cockroach species emit eject a noxious fluid when disturbed, some to a distance of up to a metre (e.g. a Spinifex roach observed by this author in 1980). Depicted is the Ellipsidion australe in Brisbane
(Images 2011 Peter Chen).





Cuttlefish are well known for their to ability blind predators by discharging a cloud of ink. Depicted is the Sepia latimanus or Reef cuttlefish (Nick Hobgood).



Like the cuttlefish, this Gloomy Octopus can discharge ink to blind a predator, but can also alter its skin colour to optimise camouflage performance. This example is at the Acquarium of Western Australia
(Image 2011 Carlo Kopp; Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G / D90).


 Denial Strategy [Subversion]
Denial [also Subversion], i.e. insertion of information which triggers a self destructive process in the opponent’s target system; Denial via subversion at the simplest level amounts to the diversion of the thread of execution within a Turing machine, which maps on to the functional behaviour of the victim system, i.e. surreptitiously flipping specific bits on the tape, to alter the behaviour of the victim Turing machine.



Bothriomyrmex regicidus. Queens of these ‘cuckoo’ ant species will invade another ant colony, kill the queen and seduce the colony worker ants into rearing the usurper’s brood (Image April Nobile / 2000-2009 AntWeb.org).



Molothrus ater. The brown-headed cowbird can elicit preening behaviour from bird species which do not typically preen. This is an example of denial/subversion, as the victim bird wastes time preening its attacker (while superficially benign, this is an attack, since the victim bird species is wasting time and energy doing the preening), a behaviour that is not a part of its established repertoire. The parasitic behaviour of the cowbird extends further, as like cuckoos it lays its eggs in other species' nests (Image USFWS).


Deception in Biology
Nature's Exploitation of Information to Win Survival Contests


2011 - 2014 Carlo Kopp / Monash University




Computer Science, Engineering and Systems Publications List Information Warfare, Hypergames, Systems Research Ad Hoc Networking Research Computer Architecture Research - Password Capability Systems Industry Publications Industry Hardware Design Projects Interesting Papers Photo Galleries Biography Email Carlo GOTO Home
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