Animals use camouflage to avoid detection. Some do it to avoid predators, while it allows others closer access to prey. Color plays a role in several different ways, including helping animals fade into natural surroundings, causing confusion with their colored patterns and even altering their color.
When animals change colors, it’s done by pigments containing cells called chromatophores, located in their organs and skin. Let’s take a look at the methods of camouflage found in the natural world.
1. Concealing Coloration
When an animal blends into its surroundings to hide, they are utilizing concealing coloration. This technique is commonly found among Arctic animals, including hares, foxes, lemmings and a bird called the ptarmigan.
These animals turn white in winter to blend into their snowy environment. Polar bears white appearance is so concealing that they can sometimes completely meld into surrounding snowdrifts. This helps them not only to escape hunters, but allows them to sneak up on prey, such as seals.
Read More: Top 10 Cold Weather Animals and How They Thrive
Another example is the whitetail deer, who changes from a reddish coat to brown and/or gray, making them less noticeable among the trees during winter. Probably the best-known example of concealing coloration is the chameleon. There are even some fish who can change color to blend in, including the rock goby and filefish.
2. Disruptive Coloration
In this type of camouflage, animals have disruptive patterns such as spots or stripes — like tigers and leopards. Zebras are another animal that effectively uses color disruption. When facing a lion attack, zebras run together in a herd to escape.
The large mass of fast moving black and white stripes makes it difficult for a lion to determine the outline and shape of individual zebras in the group — creating an obstacle to targeting a specific one.
Read More: How Do Animals Know What Their Predators Are?
Disruptive eye masks are another method making detection more challenging. Eyes make animals vulnerable because they are easily identifiable. Some animals, including certain birds, snakes, fish and frogs have patterns near or surrounding their eyes to confuse predators.
This is when an animal’s appearance looks like a non-food object that wouldn’t attract predators. Their color, shape and texture assist them in fading into their surroundings.
This is most often found among insects, including the best-known example: the walking stick. Stick insects are found all around the world, where they make themselves almost impossible to detect — by blending in with twigs and thin branches.
Read More: The Butterfly with a Dozen Disguises
Another example is the dead leaf butterfly, which closes its wings to resemble a brown leaf, including veins and spots. There is also the peppered moth that has little black bits of coloring peppered on its light gray body — which makes them hard to see when they are resting on a lichen covered tree.
4. Mimicry Animals
Mimicry is when an animal camouflages itself to look like another animal. It aids in survival in two different ways. Some mimicry animals use it for defense, to resemble other animals that are toxic or deadly — warding off predators. For example, the scarlet king snake mimics the venomous coral snake, while the viceroy butterfly mimics the monarch butterfly, which is poisonous.
Read More: 8 Facts You Didn’t Know About Venom and Toxic Animals
Predators use mimicry in a different way, making themselves appear non-threatening and enabling them to approach and catch prey without being noticed. The zone-tailed hawk (which will attack living animals) mimics the turkey vulture (which doesn’t). Potential prey won’t flee if they don’t feel threatened.