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Stripes and speed could help footballers beat opponents, study shows

Newcastle United play in black and white stripes, which could be advantageous. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Football teams could learn from the animal kingdom and bamboozle their opponents – if they’re wearing stripes and are fast enough.

Scientists at Newcastle University have conducted studied to show species with stripes can confuse predators by appearing blurred when they move swiftly.

It’s a known fact that some animals are better camouflaged when they are stationary by blending into their surroundings, it’s been proven that those with stripes, particularly narrow ones, benefit from being mobile.

Researchers, tested out their theories on praying mantises in a specially constructed miniature cinema, where the insects were played videos of rectangular shapes - which imitated bugs moving across a background similar to the natural environment.

Professor Candy Rowe (right) with a praying mantis. Credit: Newcastle University, UK

As they watched movies of the bugs moving at different speeds, the mantises would move their heads and follow the bugs across the screen, tracking them as if they were prey.

Some of the bugs had narrow or wide stripes, while others were patterned to match the background or had no pattern at all.

The research, published in Current Biology, showed that the mantises found it particularly hard to spot the patterned bugs with narrow stripes moving at faster speeds.

This is believed to be because their stripes quickly become blurred to the predator and harder to see.

Newcastle United’s famous black and white kit could have helped the mover the decades. Credit: Newcastle University, UK

Lead author, Professor Candy Rowe, professor of Animal Behaviour and Cognition at Newcastle University, explained: “We wanted to answer a puzzle that scientists have been wondering about for a while – can a pattern lower the chances that moving prey is seen by a predator?

“If you’re standing still, then looking like the background is one of the best ways to not be seen, whilst having high contrast stripes is just about the worst thing – you can really stand out.

High-contrast stripes are much better at bamboozling opponents than matching your background. Credit: PA

“For moving prey, we find that the opposite is true: stripes are much better than matching your background.

“So the answer is yes, if you’re stripy and move fast enough, then the blurring of the pattern can make it harder for the predator to spot you.

“While we did this experiment with praying mantises chasing rectangular bugs on a computer screen, the same principle should apply in the wild.

“So maybe stripes help to hide zebras running on the plains, or hover flies flitting from flower to flower.”

Praying mantis on a piece of camouflage. Credit: Newcastle University, UK

Professor Rowe said Newcastle United’s famous black and white kit could have helped in matches, but only if the players are quick.

She said: “So Newcastle United’s stripes may be helping throw off their opponents – as long as the players are running fast enough.”

Sir Alex Ferguson famously switched Manchester United’s grey away kit at half time when they were losing 3-0 at Southampton in 1996.

The manager felt the players could not make each other out in the bright sunshine and they were blending in with the crowd, and they never wore that kit again.