Hugh B. Cott

Hugh B. Cott

Hugh B. Cott (1900 – 1987), 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.

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Background

Cott was born in Leicestershire, England, on July 6, 1900. In 1919, he graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Between 1922 and 1925, he studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge University. In 1938, he earned a Doctor of Science degree at the University of Glasgow (Scotland) under the supervision of 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.

In the years following World War I, Cott traveled 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 and lecturer at Cambridge University, 1938–1967; and a lecturer and Fellow at Selwyn College, 1945–?.

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.

Camouflage research

As a military camouflage expert during both World Wars, he likened the functions of military camouflage with those of protective coloration in nature. He emphasized three main categories: concealment, disguise, and advertisement. Within those categories, he studied, described and presented examples of such diverse effects as (among others) obliterative shading, disruption, differential blending, high contrast, coincident disruption, concealment of the eye, contour obliteration, shadow elimination, and mimicry. Cott's account of all this (illustrated by his own pen and ink drawings) can be found in his book titled Adaptive colouration in animals (London: Methuen, 1940, with a foreword by Julian Huxley). This 550-page classic continues to be one of the finest, most comprehensive discussions of this 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, Indigo days (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1957), and Roland Penrose, Scrapbook 1900–1981 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981).

His writings

In addition to Adaptive colouration in animals, Cott wrote two essays on the subject: “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).

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