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Camouflage is a type of coloration or pattern that helps an animal blend in with its surroundings. It is common among invertebrates, including some species of octopus and squid, along with a variety of other animals. Camouflage is often used by prey as a way to disguise themselves from predators. It is also used by predators to conceal themselves as they stalk their prey.
There are several different types of camouflage, including concealing coloration, disruptive coloration, disguise, and mimicry.
Concealing ColorationDanielBehmPhotography.Com/Getty Images
Concealing coloration allows an animal to blend into its environment, hiding it from predators. Some animals have fixed camouflage, such as snowy owls and polar bears, whose white coloration helps them blend in with the Arctic snow. Other animals can change their camouflage at will based on where they are. For example, marine creatures such as flatfish and stonefish can alter their coloration to blend in with surrounding sand and rock formations. This type of camouflage, known as background matching, allows them to lie on the bottom of the seabed without being spotted. It is a highly useful adaptation. Some other animals have a type of seasonal camouflage. This includes the snowshoe hare, whose fur turns white in winter to match the surrounding snow. During summer, the animal's fur turns brown to match the surrounding foliage.
Disruptive ColorationVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty Images
Disruptive coloration includes spots, stripes, and other patterns that break up the outline of an animal's shape and sometimes conceal particular body parts. The stripes of a zebra's coat, for example, create a disruptive pattern that is confusing to flies, whose compound eyes have trouble processing the pattern. Disruptive coloration is also seen in spotted leopards, striped fish, and black-and-white skunks. Some animals have a particular type of camouflage called a disruptive eye mask. This is a band of color found on the bodies of birds, fish, and other creatures that conceals the eye, which is usually easy to spot because of its distinctive shape. The mask makes the eye nearly invisible, allowing the animal to better avoid being seen by predators.
Disguisesomnuk krobkum/Getty Images
Disguise is a type of camouflage where an animal takes on the appearance of something else in its environment. Some insects, for example, disguise themselves as leaves by changing their shading. There is even a whole family of insects, known as leaf insects or walking leaves, which are famous for this type of camouflage. Other creatures also disguise themselves, like the walking stick or stick-bug, which resembles a twig.
MimicryThe Viceroy butterfly mimics the poisonous Monarch. Marcia Straub/Getty Images
Mimicry is a way for animals to make themselves look like related animals that are more dangerous or otherwise less appealing to predators. This type of camouflage is seen in snakes, butterflies, and moths. For example, the scarlet kingsnake, a type of harmless snake found in the eastern United States, has evolved to look like the coral snake, which is highly poisonous. Butterflies mimic other species that are poisonous to predators. In both cases, the animals' deceptive coloration helps ward off other creatures that might be looking for a meal.