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.
Liz Butler Draws The ROM: Bears!
This week I took a walk through the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity to look
at members of the family Ursidae – bears!
It is interesting to see the variety of shapes and colours that are
expressed in this one animal family. In the Schad Gallery I noticed these
differences as I drew a shaggy, brown grizzly bear, a sleek, white polar
bear, and a strikingly patterned black & white panda.
Besides just looks, there are behavioural variations among these bears,
too. Polar bears are the most carnivorous (meat-eating) of the bears, while pandas are the most herbivorous (plant-eating). Grizzlies are less
specialized in their diets, and eat a variety of foods.
Next time you are at the Museum, see if you can find representations of
bears in the galleries of world cultures; many people around the world have been impressed by the striking looks and adaptive behaviours of these cool creatures.
- Liz Butler is an artist and teacher who loves natural history and museums. She loves drawing, painting, and making crafts of all kinds. She is happiest when she can find ways to combine art projects with science content.
- Liz’s Website – Liz Butler Draws
- Liz’s Blog – Saw Whet Studio
- More guest posts from Liz HERE!
- Do you like to sketch? Love museums? Are you a full time student in Canada? The ROM is yours to explore, FREE, every Tuesday! MORE!
Guest Post By Liz Butler. Last Updated: November 25th, 2013.
Wildlife Photography: When Science Meets Art
The huge number of colours, shapes, and sizes of living things always amazed me. So I decided to dedicate my life to study this amazing mega diverse world of life. After graduating in Biology I have worked at the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. There I had the amazing opportunity to be part of the biodiversity survey team and to travel to all kinds of environments across South America, ranging from the arid Brazilian Cerrado to the biodiversity hotspots of the Amazonian Rainforest and the Atlantic Forest.
Because we often didn’t know to what species many of the specimens we collected belonged to, my job was document every single specimen we collected with photographs. These photographs would then later be used as a record of important details for later species identification; which was all the more important when we would discover a species that was new to science. I felt (and still feel) that being the only person to have photographed that new species was a big responsibility, and one which I am proud to bear.
When we return to the lab, our work continues and more photographs are taken, as we try to record any additional information we can about a given species or environment. These are photos of morphological features, organs…even skeletons! These are the photos which, in the end, will be used to produce the guides, scientific articles, conference presentations etc. that will inform the rest of the world at large about these species and our work.
At some point I fell in love with these amazing creatures, hidden away in such remote places, and I wanted to share their incredible lives with everyone; to share the wonder that I was so fortunate to see first-hand, whether it be in the middle of the Amazon or on the top of a mountain in the Atlantic Forest. Some animals are so photogenic and beautiful that I couldn’t help but want to explore the artistic side of these beautiful animals.
Inspired by the upcoming Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit (opening November 23rd at the ROM), I’m thrilled to be sharing some of my photos in a special edition of the ROM’s Curators’ Corner program, called ROM Photographers of the Year! On November 30th, ROM researchers will be coming together in the Earth Rangers Studio (Level 2 - in the Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity) to share their photos, research and stories from their field expeditions around the world. You can even vote for your favorite photo taken by a ROM researcher on the ROM’s Facebook page, starting today!
Come to the museum and be inspired by the amazing images in Wildlife Photographer of the Year starting on November 23rd, and, if you have the chance, come and check out my photos (and the photos of many of my ROM colleagues) on November 30th! Hope to see you soon
- Eyes: all kinds of colors, shapes & sizes.
- A Spotted tree frog (Scinax fuscomarginata) that can’t wait to be photographed.
- (Clockwise from top left) - Discovery of parasites under the skin in the White-Eye treefrog; Internal organs of a live Glass Frog; Details of a snake’s head-scales; a newly discovered species of Velvet worm; the skull anatomy of the Grey Tree Frog.
- Mosaic of colorful and unique animals.
- All Photos by Pedro Bernardo.
- If you enjoyed this, you’ll also like “Get outside with photography: Merging technology with nature”
- Original post here.
Guest post written by Pedro Bernardo, PhD Candidate and ROM Biodiversity researcher. Last update: November 18th, 2013.
Turtle Tears And The Insects That Drink Them
So apparently, just like when your dog laps up your tears to make you feel better when you’re sad, so do insects to turtles!
Well, no, even though that’s a pretty good story that I hope someone writes.
The Amazon rainforest is known as an incredibly rich resource of fresh water, but at the same time lacks readily accessible salt. The main reason this region lacks salt is that much of the Amazon exists far from salt providing oceans. Carnivores can get their fill through the meat they eat, such as the turtle above. But herbivorous animals, such as butterflies, have to look elsewhere. Because of this, turtles play a valuable, but hidden, role in the Amazonian ecosystem by providing life maintaining salt to smaller animals, like insects.
Eating salt from non-traditional sources isn’t all that uncommon in the wild. Sometimes animals aren’t able to get the necessary salt from the food they eat or water they drink. This forces animals to seek salt wherever they can. The most common example are naturally occurring mineral deposits called salt licks.
According to Geoff Gallice, entomology grad student at the Florida Museum of Natural History, animals will go to great lengths to ingest salt, “insects also readily get the salt from animal urine, muddy river banks, puddles, sweaty clothes and sweating people”. Some animals have even been known to lick clay to gain access to this valuable mineral.
Meanwhile, most humans living in developed regions of the world have no problem gaining access to salt. In fact, according to Health Canada, many Canadians consume more than double the suggested amount of salt per day!
But why the tears?
For those concerned over the turtle tears, fret not, turtles cry for multiple reasons!
- To rid their bodies of excess salt. Turtles consume salt through their food, in specific meat, and from their environment, such as sea turtles and the salt water they live in. Turtles, like many reptiles, lack the ability to create urine if there is too much salt in their body. Crying lets the turtle release salt from their bodies, and in this case, create an alternative salt source for Amazonian insects!
- To moisten the protective membrane around their eyes. Outside of water, tears also help keep their eyes from becoming overly dry.
But does this bother the turtles?
Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an annoyance!
- Live Science: Must-See: Amazonian Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears
- io9: Amazonian butterflies and bees drink the tears of turtles
- Wikipedia: The History of Salt
- Harvard: Lower Salt and Sodium: A Key to Good Health
- Cremer, Jeff. Butterflies drink turtle tears. 2013. Photograph. Live Science. Web. 11 Sep 2013.
Gorillas may not be able to understand english (and who would when someone is calling you “ugly”), but they certainly can understand body language and tone.
Watch as this gorilla scares off some inconsiderate children.