Animals use camouflage to avoid detection. Some do this to avoid predators, while it allows others to have closer access to prey. Color plays a role in a number of different ways, including helping animals blend into natural surroundings, causing confusion with their colorful patterns, and even changing their color.
When animals change color, it is thanks to pigments containing cells called chromatophores, located in their organs and skin. Let’s take a look at the camouflage methods found in the natural world.
1. Conceal coloring
When an animal blends into its environment to hide, it uses color concealment. This technique is common among arctic animals, including hares, foxes, lemmings, and a bird called the ptarmigan.
These animals turn white in winter to blend in with their snowy surroundings. The white appearance of polar bears is so concealed that they can sometimes blend in completely with the surrounding snowdrifts. This not only helps them evade hunters, but allows them to sneak up on prey, such as seals.
Learn more: Top 10 Cold Weather Animals and How They Thrive
Another example is the white-tailed deer, which changes from a reddish coat to brown and/or gray, making it less visible among the trees during the winter. Probably the best-known example of color concealment is the chameleon. There are even fish that can change color to blend in, including rock goby and filefish.
2. Disruptive coloring
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In this type of camouflage, animals have disturbing patterns such as spots or stripes, such as tigers and leopards. Zebras are another animal that uses color disruption effectively. Facing a lion attack, the zebras run together in a herd to escape.
The large mass of fast-moving black and white stripes makes it difficult for a lion to determine the outline and shape of the individual zebras in the group, creating a barrier to targeting a specific zebra.
Learn more: How do animals know who their predators are?
Disruptive eye masks are another method that makes detection more difficult. Eyes make animals vulnerable because they are easily identifiable. Some animals, including some birds, snakes, fish, and frogs, have patterns near or around their eyes to confuse predators.
This is when an animal’s appearance resembles a non-food object that would not attract predators. Their color, shape and texture help them blend into their surroundings.
This is most often found among the insects, including the best-known example: the cane. Stick insects are found all over the world, where they make themselves almost impossible to detect – by mingling with twigs and thin branches.
Learn more: The Butterfly in Twelve Disguises
Another example is the leaf litter butterfly, which closes its wings to resemble a brown leaf, including veins and spots. There is also the peppered moth which has small bits of black coloration dotted across its light gray body – making them hard to see when resting on a lichen covered tree.
4. Mimic Animals
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Mimicry is when an animal camouflages itself to look like another animal. It helps in survival in two different ways. Some mimic animals use it for self-defense, to look like other poisonous or deadly animals – to ward off predators. For example, the Scarlet King Serpent mimics the venomous coral snake, while the viceroy butterfly mimics the monarch butterfly, which is venomous.
Learn more: 8 facts you didn’t know about venom and poisonous animals
Predators use mimicry in a different way, by posing as non-threatening and allowing them to approach and grab prey unnoticed. The Zone-tailed Hawk (which will attack live animals) mimics the Red-headed Vulture (which does not). Potential prey will not flee unless they feel threatened.