Animals use coloring, texture and markings to blend into their
environments. Predators use camouflage to make it hard for their preys
to see them sneak up. Other animals use camouflage to hide from their
There are four basic types of camouflage:
- Concealing Coloration: when an animal hides itself against
a background of the same color. There are many well-known examples of this
type of camouflage (e.g., polar bears, artic fox, snowshoe hare). Concealing coloration camouflage is one of the reasons why many
animals living in the Artic are white, while many animals living in forests
are brown (e.g., deers).
A snowshoe hare
has white fur in winter. But this color is not a good for
camouflage purposes during summer. During summer, this hare grows a brown
colored coat. (See picture.)
Since a hare's coat/fur, like our hair or fingernails, is
made up dead cells, it can not just change the color of its coat.
Instead it has to shed its winter coat and grow a new coat in summer.
While mammals and birds can not change colors rapidly, some reptiles
and fish can change colors in a flash. Chameleons change color to hide
themselves and sometimes to show their mood! The octopus can
not only change color but can also change the texture of their skin (to
blend with their surroundings even better).
- Disruptive Coloration: The stripes, spots or other patterns on some
are used to make it hard for other animals to see the outline of their
bodies. A herd of zebras crowded together might look like one large mass to a lion rather several zebras. This makes it hard for the lion to
single out a weak zebra and come up with a good plan of
attack. (Some additional information about Zebra stripes can be found below.)
Tigers and leopards also use disruptive coloration. Predators like
leopard move around in low branches. Their spots helps them hide well
in such an environment where there lots of shadows of leafs and spots
of light come through. So they don't stick out against such a
- Disguise: This is like concealing coloration except that
the animals blend in with their surroundings by their shape and/or
texture rather than color.
Most of the examples of
creatures that use this type of camouflage are insects. Examples
include Katydid, Indian leaf butterfly, and Walking stick insect. There
are lots of pictures online (e.g., here,
- Mimicry: Animals that use mimicry are imposters. They mimic
the characteristics of unappetizing animals. A monarch butterfly is
toxic and unappetizing to birds. Viceroy butterflies safeguard
themselves from birds who prey upon them by looking a lot
like monarch butterflies. (See picture.)
A hawk moth also uses mimicry. This picture
of a hawk moth tells the whole story.
Most of the material (above) on the different types of camouflage
have been taken from Nova's
site on camouflage and Sacremento
More on Zebra Stripes
The zebra's stripes also
helps it hide well in tall grass from the lions.
Even though the a zebra's stripes are black and white, whereas the
color of grass is green or brown, the stripes also provide effective camouflage because lions are color blind!
Zebra's stripe patterns are like our fingerprints. Every zebra has its
own arrangement. Zoologists believe that this is how a zebra knows who
is who in its herd.