Many animals hunt to find food. Those they hunt are called their prey. The prey wants to hide from the predators. They want to make themselves look different from what they are and blend in with their surroundings. This blending in is called camouflage. The word comes from a French word which means to 'disguise.' Predators also use camouflage so their prey will not see them coming.
There are four types of camouflage which animals use. The first is color. An animal hides behind or in an environment of the same color. This is called concealing coloration. However, some animals may have problems as seasons change. A white animal may blend in with its surroundings in winter but have trouble hiding in the other seasons. Some animals change their colors to match the season. The arctic fox is grayish brown in summer and white in winter. Temperature or the amount of daylight possibly cause these changes.
The second type of camouflage is disruptive coloration. A striped animal, for example, may be less easy to see because the two colors do not suggest the outline of an animal. Lions are colorblind and do not see zebras because the stripes blend in with the tall grass. The yellow and brown colors of a leopard help it to blend in with the yellowish-brown of savannah grasses. An owl butterfly has the markings of a big eye on its wings which look like the eye of an owl.
Another type of camouflage is a disguise. An animal looks very much like an object. An example of this is a walking stick. It looks like a twig or small branch on a tree. A leafy sea dragon's body looks just like the green plant it sits on under water.
The fourth type of camouflage animals use is mimicry. An animal may look like a poisonous plant or animal so predators will not bother it. The caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly looks like bird droppings, and a predator does not want to touch it. A coral snake has bands of black, red and yellow. It is poisonous. King and milk snakes have these same colored bands but in a different order. Predators fear the stripes of the non-poisonous snakes also. A four-eyed butterfly fish has a marking which looks like a big eye near its tail. A predator thinks the fish will try to escape in the direction of its eye, but it goes in the opposite direction.
In addition, some animals can mimic or imitate sounds to protect themselves. A bird called a fork-tailed drongo can imitate the sound of a meerkat to steal its food. A robber fly makes the sound of a bumblebee to ward off predators. A cuckoo can imitate the sound of a hawk and scare smaller birds off their nests. The cuckoo then gets rid of the eggs in the nest and lays its own.
Besides the four types of camouflage, color shading helps some animals remain hidden. Most animals have bodies with color shading. They are dark on top and light on the bottom. The sun shines on the top and makes them less visible. An animal which lives upside down has coloring which is just the opposite. An Egyptian Nile catfish swims with its belly up. It is darker than his other side.
Many animals can hide in a forest using camouflage. Forests provide homes for eighty percent of animals which live on land. A leaf-tailed gecko can hide by flattening itself against the bark of a tree. In Madagascar and Africa, an insect, a ghost mantis, has a body which looks like it is covered by dried up leaves so it can hide in the leaves on the ground. When a tulip tree beauty moth which is ivory and brown flattens itself against a tree, it is impossible to see. A brown vine snake found in South America, Mexico and Arizona can hide in a tree while waiting for prey to pass by.
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