|How do animals camouflage?
|Question Date: 2009-02-21|
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
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.
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.
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
There are some great photos on
animals pretend to be something they're not. Some
caterpillars pretend to be bird
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?
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
Other animals build or find
camouflage. For example, decorator crabs attach
twigs and rocks to their shells. That way they
look like their surroundings.
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.
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
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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