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How do animals camouflage?
Question Date: 2009-02-21
Answer 1:

Your question about camouflage is very interesting. You probably know that the whole point of camouflage is to blend in with the environment - to avoid being seen. This is good if the animal is "prey" - the predator never sees the prey. But it also works for predators - they can hang out or sneak up on prey without being seen.

So how do animals achieve camouflage? There are two basic ways to think about this - first, the animal has particular markings or colors that allow it to blend in with its most "typical" environment (leopard spots to mimic the "dappled shadows" of the forest or a bird that has feather colors and patterns that blend with tall grass or tree bark, for example). These types of camouflage have evolved over time and are most common in mammals and birds. Even aquatic animals (fish, cetaceans, penguins) use a type of coloration that makes them difficult to be seen - darker on top and lighter underneath. The second way that animals achieve camouflage is a more active way - by literally changing the color or pattern of their skin to mimic their surroundings. This happens with animals like chameleons or cephalopods (quids, octopi). How do actually do this is an area of intense study. Special cells in the skin act as "detectors" and these cells "respond" by adjusting the amount and types of pigments - which in turn results in a color or pattern change. Scientists are not exactly sure how this works, but there is a lot of interest in figuring it out.

Answer 2:

That's a great question. I was just talking to my college students about this. One way animals camouflage themselves is by matching their background. Insects are really good at this because their exoskeletons ("shells") can have so many different colors and patterns. Some squids and octopi are great at changing their color and behavior to match their background.

Another way is by having patterns on their bodies that break up their outline. This works like the camouflage that hunters and soldiers wear.A solid-colored object is easy to see because the background is usually a pattern of light and dark. An animal with patterns of light and dark blends in better. You can demonstrate this to yourself and your friends by coloring some objects a solid color and some a pattern of light and dark blotches, then and seeing which are easier to find.

There are some great photos on

Some animals pretend to be something they're not. Some caterpillars pretend to be bird droppings.


How do you think behavior helps animals camouflage themselves? Why do you think that some animals are brightly colored? Think of some animals that you recognize immediately because of their bold color or pattern(not just because they're familiar). What do they have in common?

Answer 3:

Animals with natural camouflage colors inherited their colors from their parents, or occasionally with new colors from genetic mutations. New colors can be good or bad. Animals which are born with bad camouflage colors are easy to spot, so they don't tend to live long. For example, a white deer would be easier for a cougar to find and eat. On the other hand, a white cougar would be easier for a deer to avoid, so the cougar would starve. Animals that are born with better camouflage coloring can survive and pass their coloring to their offspring.

Other animals build or find camouflage. For example, decorator crabs attach twigs and rocks to their shells. That way they look like their surroundings.

Answer 4:

Animal bodies have colors, patterns, or textures that mimic the background that they are up against. As a consequence, they don't "stand out" when you look at them.

Answer 5:

There are many ways animals camouflage themselves. An animal's color, shape, or skin texture can help them blend in with their environment. For example, there are insects that look like leaves or twigs or tree bark, fish that have the same color patterns as the particular type of coral they hide in, and birds that blend in with the rocks where they roost. Other animals can actually change their appearance according to their environment. The arctic fox for example has a dark colored coat in the spring and summer months when there are green plants and dark soil every where. But then in the winter when snow is covering everything, the fox's coat turns all white. The behavior of some animals also helps them to blend in. For instance, green chameleons that live in trees tend to sway back and forth when sitting on a branch - this makes them appear as if they were just a leaf blowing in the breeze. As you probably know, there are still other animals that can actually change the color or texture of their skin depending on what their environment looks like. The octopus and cuttlefish are great examples of this. They have special cells in their bodies that allow them to rearrange pigment molecules (colored molecules) in order to change the color patterns in their skin. Some of them can also make their skin either smooth or prickly.

If you are interested, I found a good website that gives your more information on animal camouflage and has some pictures and videos you can look through. Here is the website:


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