Camouflage: More Than Meets The Eye, Animals in Disguise!
For many animals living in the wild, appearance can play a major role in determining their chances of survival. While for many animals this simply means camouflage or blending in with their surroundings, other animals have adapted other patterns that serve different purposes, but with the same goal of survival always in mind.
Categories of Camouflage
The most common type of camouflaging is called crypsis. This describes the ability of an animal to completely avoid detection by predators. Often, this simply requires being the same colour as one’s surroundings. Popular examples of this include the snowshoe hare and the arctic fox, whose fur colour can change according to the season. As the season changes, and winter approaches, the brown fur of these animals turns snow white, meaning these animals always have the right fur to match their surroundings. Another great example of crypsis camouflage is the Vietnamese Mossy Frog from the ROM’s Hands-on Gallery! The textures and colours on the back of these frogs make them virtually indistinguishable from a clump of grass or moss. When silent or stationary, these animals become almost invisible against their surroundings. This is a huge advantage for defending against predators, but can also be helpful to predators in catching their prey.
Another form of camouflage is mimicry, and this describes an animal that resembles other elements in nature. Stick bugs, for example, by resembling leaves and branches of trees where they live, can avoid detection by potential predators. Stick insects, and other closely-related leaf insects are some of the most impressive feats of camouflage in the animal kingdom as they mimic not just the colours, but also the shapes of their surroundings. Another form of mimicry occurs in the milk snake, which is a completely harmless species of snake whose skin pattern closely resembles that of the deadly coral snake. By simply resembling a dangerous animal, which no predator would want to harm, mimicry can help to ensure that a harmless animal remains left alone.
Motion dazzle describes a type of camouflage where an animal is still visible, but the pattern on its skin makes it hard to locate precisely. Motion dazzle is a particularly effective form of camouflage for animals on the move. The most famous example of this is the zebra. When a pack of zebras gather, or a single zebra runs, its black and white stripes make it difficult to determine where one zebra ends and another begins. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t really matter that the colour of zebras stands out against their surroundings since their major predator, the lion, is colour blind. This shows just how important the pattern on an animal’s skin can be.
Camouflaging can be especially difficult for animals that live underwater, where most of the surroundings are made up of clear water, but even marine animals find ways to camouflage themselves. One of the most effective ways of becoming invisible is to be highly transparent. Many aquatic animals like the jellyfish and certain shrimplike crustaceans have highly gelatinous bodies, made mostly of water. The jellyfish, for example, boasts the astonishingly high statistic of being composed of as much as 95% water. While this has the disadvantage of making their bodies bulky and the animal slower, it also makes the animal almost entirely transparent.
Another popular form of camouflage used by underwater animals is called silvering. This technique is employed by fish such as sardine and herring. It is commonly used in high-to-medium depths of sea, where there is still some light shining through. These fish typically have reflective skin elements that can act like mirrors. Depending on the angle they are viewed from, they can be hard to spot, or can even be rendered completely invisible to predators.
The Hidden World Of Camouflage
These are just some of many of the different techniques that animals out there use. I find it fascinating that for all those creatures we see out in nature, no matter how strange they may look sometimes, there’s always a reason why that particular look works for that animal. It’s also awesome to see how camouflage can work both ways. While many different animals want to blend into their surroundings and go unnoticed, some have different reasons for doing so than others. Some are trying to hide from their predators but others wish to remain unseen by their prey. So whether it’s something simple like being the same colour as grass and dirt or the much bolder route of trying to look like something they’re not, it seems like every animal has a different way of achieving the same goal: surviving.
- Animal Planet: How do a zebra’s stripes act as camouflage?
- How Stuff Works: How Animal Camouflage Works
- National Geographic Kids: Animal Camouflage
- Discovery: Animal Camouflage Pictures
- Science Daily: New Way Fish Camouflage Themselves in the Ocean: Manipulating How Light Reflects Off Skin
- ROM: Wildlife Photographer of the Year
- Vietnamese mossy frog: “Vietnamese Mossy Frog” by Jason Wesley Upton, April 8, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
- Jellyfish: “Transparent Jellyfish” by Rohit Thakur, February 26, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
- Zebra: “Zebras” by John Schinker, July 26, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
- Stick bug: “IMG_8744” by Jeff Friend October 30, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
- Rabbit: “White-tailed Jack Rabbit” by USFWS Mountain-Prairie, February 29, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
- Silver fish: “Bait Ball” by icelight May 21, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
Post by Chris Miller, ROMKids Studio Assistant. Last updated: November 25th, 2013.
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