The animal world is full of trickery and concealment. To evade predators and sneak up on prey, animals must often distort their true appearance. In order to pull of these subterfuges, animals have evolved many types of camouflage, some of which can easily fool human eyes. A common tactic is background matching, where an animal sports colors and patterns that help it blend in with its surroundings. This can be as simple as a snow-white coat of fur. Other, more elaborate disguises resemble the whorls of bark on a tree or mottled surface of stone.
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Some animals use patches of light and dark colors to break up their outline. This is called disruptive coloration , and makes it harder for predators to see their shape. The peach blossom, a type of moth that uses disruptive coloration. By contrast, background matching can keep an animal hidden in one type of terrain, but is less helpful if it needs to travel through several habitats.
Octopuses and their relatives, squids and cuttlefish, simply change color to match their new settings by using special muscles to control the size of pigment cells called chromatophores in their skin.
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Some species can cycle through a whopping 30 to 50 different looks. Their skills are inspiring better camouflage for soldiers.
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Another ruse is called countershading. When sunlight shines on an animal, the creature is illuminated on top and shaded underneath. Sharks and birds often have dark backs and lighter bellies to balance this play of light and shadow , making them harder to see from the side. Countershading also makes an animal harder to spy from above or below. When viewed from beneath, the animal disappears against the sky or sunlit surface waters. Other animals pretend to be something else entirely.
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They may mimic a twig, like stick insects, or masquerade as dead leaves. The tawny frogmouth, a bird native to Australia, even puts on a bit of an act to make its disguise more believable.
These animals are great at hide and seek.
When it senses danger , a tawny frogmouth freezes and tucks in its feathers to impersonate a broken branch. Some researchers have proposed that this is why zebras have such striking stripes. During World War I, ships were painted with dazzle patterns. But Hall and her colleagues have found that dazzle patterns can be rather effective while in motion, and do make it harder to tell how fast an object is traveling.
Not all camouflage relies on visual trickery. Some squirrels seek out shed rattlesnake skins, chew them up, then lick themselves. And harlequin fish seem to adopt the aroma of the corals they eat in order to hide from predators. Ultimately, camouflage may be in the eye of the beholder.
How Animal Camouflage Works | HowStuffWorks
Humans can see more colors than many of our animal relatives. So some animals that seem bright and even eye-catching might just fade into the background to their predators. Animals that appear red or ruddy orange to human eyes—like tigers—appear to be a greenish color to many members of the animal kingdom.
Other animals, such as butterflies and certain types of lizards, go to great lengths to eliminate their shadows, a technique that was employed by military camouflage during WWII. Some camouflage animals will even reinforce their disguise by mimicking certain behaviors.
For instance, the leafy seadragon actually sways like the seaweed it disguises itself as. And, of course, there are animals who adapt their coloration to the environment. The arctic hare will shed its coat, moving from winter white to brown or gray in the summer. With mimesis, animals camouflage themselves as something that would be of little interest, whether a dead leaf or a twig.
With a myriad of choices for disguise, animals of all types turn to camouflage to help them survive.
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