Whether it’s a humble stick insect hiding amongst the undergrowth, or a leopard stalking its prey in the jungle, the animal kingdom is alive with amazing examples of camouflage. Being virtually indistinguishable from their surroundings may give creatures a distinct survival advantage, and it can help them to conceal themselves more effectively or hunt with even more lethal efficiency.
Animals as wide-ranging as crocodiles, owls and geckos use camouflage to enable them to blend in with the environment. Here we present some remarkable examples.
10. Egyptian Nightjar
This well-hidden bird is the Egyptian nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), a native of southwest Asia and northern Africa. These avian marvels have been given the nickname “goatsuckers” due to their frequent presence near herds of domesticated animals, which gave birth to a rumor that they drink the milk of goats.
Like other nightjars, they are active during the twilight hours and spend their days resting on the ground – an environment in which they are difficult to see, thanks to the color of their plumage.
The best time to see these birds is at night, when light apparently reflects off their eyes, creating a red glow. As for food, they live mainly on insects, such as moths and flies.
9. Boulenger's Giant Treefrog
The distinctive green coloration of this juvenile Boulenger’s giant treefrog (Platypelis grandis) helps it blend in well with the foliage of its habitat in northern, eastern and central Madagascan forests. This fascinating amphibian has a distinctive call that is said to sound like the chopping of wood. Males of the species are bigger than females, and they are thought to be territorial.
However, while its camouflage is a useful survival tool, the Boulenger’s giant treefrog is threatened by habitat loss, due to agriculture, charcoal manufacture, and humans encroaching onto its land, among other factors.
A stalker and ambush specialist mainly found in Central and South America, this big cat has a coat that helps it approach prey undetected. The pattern of spots resembles the dappled shade cast by foliage on the jungle floor, and this helps to break up the cat’s outline – as the picture above shows.
The jaguar (Panthera onca) commonly prowls the paths of the forest in search of prey, which can include turtles, fish, monkeys, deer, and even anacondas and full-grown caimans. Jaguars have incredibly strong jaw muscles; in fact, they are said to be capable of biting down with twice the force of a lion, sometimes using their teeth to puncture the skulls of their victims. With a camouflage coat like that, though, the jaguar’s chosen food source might never see it coming.
7. Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko
Your eyes do not deceive you – there really is a lizard climbing on that leaf. This is the satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus), a truly amazing mimic. There are a number of species of leaf-tailed geckos, and all of them have awesome camouflage to blend into their surroundings in their native Madagascar.
Parts of satanic leaf-tailed geckos’ bodies are adapted to hide them in the undergrowth: for example, some have notches in their tails so that they resemble dying leaves. And these largely nocturnal creatures, which feast on small insects, also have a number of other strategies to help them escape predators, including displaying their intimidating red mouths and voluntarily detaching their tails. They will also hunker close to tree trunks to cut down on telltale shadows. Still, despite these adaptations, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko has been put in danger through destruction of its habitat.
6. Great Gray Owl
The great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) is also known as the “phantom of the north,” and looking at this picture, it may indeed seem like a ghostly vision. Its piercing yellow eyes and graceful flight have made it a special target for wildlife photographers.
Lengthwise, the species is the largest owl in the world, and it inhabits coniferous forests in North America, Finland, Estonia and northern Asia. When roosting, it can easily “disappear” into tree trunks due to the gray and white patterns on its feathers.
The great gray feeds almost exclusively on small rodents, using its large facial disk to focus sound and find its victims. One of the species’ most remarkable abilities is its “snow plunge,” whereby the birds dive through the white stuff to seize prey beneath the surface.
5. Spotted Scorpionfish
The spotted scorpionfish ( Scorpaena plumieri) possesses venomous spines along its back, which it may use to deadly effect when disturbed – but one of its other methods of survival is concealment. Its color and patterning help it camouflage itself in the coral reefs and rocks that make up its environment in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Gulf of Mexico.
The scorpionfish takes advantage of its ability to blend in by lying in wait on top of reefs. When fish or crustaceans pass by, it will suck them up with its sizable mouth. Some species of the scorpionfish family hide by burying themselves in mud on the sea floor.
4. Horned Adder
This snake (Bitis caudalis) is found in southwest Africa and is distinguished by the horn-like scales over each of its eyes, which give it its name. The coloring and appearance of this viper species make it easy for it to hide in sandy conditions. And the horned adder can also lie concealed when it buries itself under the soft sand in order to cool down.
An ambush predator, it catches small rodents and lizards that stray too near to its hiding place. Although the snake’s venom is thought to be relatively weak for its genus, it can still cause nausea, pain and swelling in humans.
3. Pygmy Seahorse
As their name suggests, pygmy seahorses are extremely tiny, rarely growing longer than an inch in size. They are found in coastal areas around Japan, Indonesia, Australia and New Caledonia.
This particular species (Hippocampus bargibanti) eats small crustaceans, and it has close ties to the gorgonian corals among which it lives. The seahorses’ coloring and protrusions match the appearance of coral polyps, potentially making them difficult for predators to spot.
Little is known about the pygmy seahorse’s behavior and conservation status. This may be due in part to the fact that specimens and their host corals have died when taken into captivity, despite the care of experienced researchers.
2. Polar Bear
The polar bear (Ursus maritimis) is the largest land carnivore in the world: adult males can grow up to 10 feet (three meters) in length and weigh in at as much as 1,500lb (700kg). On top of their size and strength, these predators’ fur may give them a survival advantage by camouflaging them in the frozen conditions of the Arctic and therefore making it easier for them to ambush prey.
Polar bears’ fur contains no pigment and is see-through, with a core that creates a “scattering” effect when light hits it, similar to what happens with snow and ice. The combination of their fur and body fat keeps them warm at low temperatures.
These amazing animals generally live on a diet of ringed and bearded seals. They hunt them by lying in wait near seal breathing holes, then drag out any that come up for air before crushing the victims’ skulls in their jaws.
1. Saltwater Crocodile
The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the largest reptile in the world, and quite possibly the most fearsome. They inhabit brackish waters like mangrove swamps, lagoons and estuaries in northern Australia, eastern India and Southeast Asia, environments in which they can easily conceal themselves. Their coloration and lack of movement may see them confused with sunken logs.
They are fiercely territorial and hostile towards both others of their species and humans – so Australian officials make concerted efforts to discourage swimming in waters where “salties” are known to live.
Crocodiles have been described as cunning, which may stem from their ability to wait patiently until suitable prey presents itself. The saltwater croc’s bite is the most powerful of any living animal, and if this lethal force doesn’t kill its prey, it may instead drag the victim underwater until it drowns.