Baby Arctic fox in snow habitat

Animals use camouflage to avoid detection. Some do it to avoid predators, while others allow closer access to prey. Color plays a role in several different ways, including helping animals fade in the natural environment, causing confusion with their color patterns, and even changing their color.

Camouflage animals

When animals change color, it is done by pigments containing cells called chromatophores, located in their organs and skin. Let’s look at camouflage methods found in the natural world.

1. Camouflage coloring

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When an animal blends in with its surroundings to hide, it uses concealing coloring. This technique is common among arctic animals, including rabbits, foxes, lemmings, and a bird called a sparrowhawk.

These animals turn white in winter to blend in with the snowy environment. The white exterior of polar bears is so hidden that sometimes they can completely blend in with the surrounding snowdrifts. This helps them not only escape from 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 white-tailed deer, which transitions from reddish fur to brown and/or gray, making them less noticeable among the trees in the winter. Probably the most well-known example of color concealment is chameleon. There are even some fish that can change color to blend in, including the rock bull and the fish.

2. Destructive staining

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In this type of camouflage, animals have disruptive patterns such as spots or stripes – such as tigers and leopards. Zebras are another animal that effectively uses color disruption. When faced with a lion attack, zebras herd to escape.

The large mass of fast-moving black and white stripes makes it difficult for the lion to determine the outline and shape of the individual zebras in the group – creating an obstacle to targeting a specific one.

Read more: How do animals know who their predators are?

Destructive eye masks are another method that makes detection more challenging. Eyes make animals vulnerable because they are easily recognized. Some animals, including some birds, snakes, fish and frogs, have patterns near or around their eyes to confuse predators.

3. Concealment

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This is when the appearance of the animal looks like a non-food object that would not attract predators. Their color, shape and texture help them blend into their surroundings.

This is the most common among insects, including the most famous example: the cane. Sticks are found all over the world where they become almost impossible to detect – blending in with twigs and thin branches.

Read more: The butterfly in 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 pepper moth, which has small black patches of coloring on its light gray body – making them hard to spot when resting on a lichen-covered tree.

4. Mimicry Animals

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Mimicry is when an animal disguises itself to look like another animal. It helps two people survive different ways. Some mimic animals use it for protection, to resemble other animals that are toxic or deadly – warding off predators. For example, the scarlet kingsnake mimics poisoned coral snake, while the viceroy butterfly mimics the monarch butterfly, which is poisonous.

Read more: 8 facts you didn’t know about poison and toxic animals

They use predators mimicry differently by making themselves appear non-threatening and allowing them to approach and capture prey without being seen. The ring-tailed hawk (which attacks live animals) mimics the vulture (which does not). Potential prey will not run away if they do not feel threatened.

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