How wild animals are masters of disguise?

Imagine you are on safari in a wild animal park. Your eyes are darting everywhere, missing nothing.

Or so you thought, until, suddenly, your guide tells you that there is some wild animal on a tree nearby.

He points to a  tree 400 feet (120 m) away. ‘It is a leopard,’ he says.

"Where?" you ask.

You look, change the angle of your vision, rub your eyes and looked again. Yet see nothing but leaves and branches.

Your guide suggests. ‘Let’s go closer’.

You approach to about 50 feet (15 m) from the tree and then you finally see it.

The Leopard is disguised in a tree.

 The Leopard is disguised in a tree.

Spots and blotches, white and brown, now showed up in the solid shape of the leopard, distinct from similar spots and blotches and colors of the tree and sunlight.

Your guide admits he might not have seen the leopard if the tail had not been hanging down with a curl at the end.

The curl was an unusual shape in the tree, so he looked again and saw the animal.

You became aware of the impressive world of animal camouflage—a world that is evident all around us in the resemblance that animals have to their surroundings.

Wild animals who are masters of disguise


Camouflage in animals is essential for their survival.

It serves as a means of concealment from predators, or helps the predators to remain inconspicuous while stalking, waylaying or baiting their prey.

The principle is the achieving of invisibility by confusing the vision of other creatures.

The experience with the leopard illustrates this.

Like many other creatures, leopards have the mottled appearance of a forest that has sunlight filtering through the trees.

They also have the ability to remain motionless and become invisible by merging with their surroundings.

This is true even of the zebra, which may seem to be the most obvious of wild creatures. The zebra’s stripes serve the same purpose as the leopard’s mottled coat.

 A Zebra disguised in the background as it eating grass

A Zebra disguised in the background as it eating grass

The pattern of contrasting shades and forms seems to break up the shape of the animal into irregular patches or stripes.

This is because, when looking from a distance, the eye finds it difficult to fit a broken colour scheme together into one solid form.

It responds to the illusion created by the disruptive colouring and sees the pale background of the animal’s coat as the light spaces between trees and grass.

So the zebra merges with the slender tree trunks and stalks of grass, and the leopard “disappears” into a tree or bush.

One marsh-dwelling bird, the bittern, also merges with the reeds in its habitat because of its striped russet and black colouring.

But it increases its camouflage by standing immobile among the reeds with its neck and bill pointed straight up, whenever danger threatens. It even sways with the windblown reeds.

In addition, there is the counter-shading pattern in which the colouration of the upper parts of animals is darker than the undersides.

This counteracts the effect of sunlight, which accentuates the three-dimensional appearance of an object by casting a shadow on its lower surface and on the ground.

Because of the counter-shading, the shadow cast by the animal’s upper portion darkens the paler underside and, to all appearances, reduces its form.

By contrast, other creatures merge with the background because of colour resemblance.

The white polar bears, the green parakeets and grasshoppers, as well as the black, grey or dusky nocturnal creatures all resemble the colour of their environment.

This is also true of the delicate or gaudy colours of insects, frogs, lizards and birds that spend their lives among flowers and leaves.

Insects and fish disguises


Another method of disguise is by shape imitation, mimicry.

This is where insects and fish excel.

I remember once hearing someone exclaim: “I can’t believe it! The twig is walking.” 

Stick insect disguised as a twig

Stick insect disguised as a twig

Well, it was not a twig; it was an insect. Insects constitute a world of varied beauty and bizarre, surprising, intricate forms.

Colouring and shape provide such perfect disguise that it baffles the eyes even at close range.

Other insects resemble green sprigs, green leaves, dry leaves, partly decayed leaves, or even the excreta of birds.

An insect that is disguised as a leave

An insect that is disguised as a leave

The leaf insect looks so much like a bunch of green leaves in colour, shape, vein like markings and in its slow, swaying movements, that other insects have been deceived into nibbling it!

And in Africa, there is a little beetle that looks like a leaf at the end of a stalk. The stalk is its snout!

There are also masters of disguises in the waters, too.

The stone fish looks like a large stone.

Stone fish disguised as stone

Stone fish disguised as stone

And the multi-branched body of the Australian “sea dragon” resembles seaweed.

The frog fish with its blotchy colouration is almost invisible among the seaweeds of the Sargasso Sea.

Frog fish disguised as a seaweed

Frog fish disguised as a seaweed

There, concealed from predators, it waylays its prey. It adds a bait to its camouflage—a fleshy growth on its snout that it wriggles as a lure for other fish.

The scorpion fish has a blotchy red colouration like the stones and corals among which it lives. It can vary this colouring to fit more closely into its surroundings.

Scorpion fish disguised as coral reef

Scorpion fish disguised as coral reef

Many species of fish can do this, and some add sand and pieces of weed to their body to complete the camouflage.

Then there is the squid, which ejects a blob of inky fluid when pursued.

This creates a “smoke screen” behind which it can swim to safety. Since the blob is approximately the size of the squid, it confuses pursuers in another way:

You can imagine a predator’s intent attack on the blob instead of on the squid!

Chameleon the famous master of disguise

Chameleon perfectly disguised in its surrounding

Chameleon perfectly disguised in its surrounding

The chameleon is among the few reptiles that have a selection of vivid colours.

It can groping down a tree limb, trembling like an old man, dressed in a patchwork robe of green, yellow, grey and brown.

These are also the colours of the bark and leaves on the tree. Its slow, deliberate gait to attract less attention.

At a glance it could be seen as a cluster of yellow, brown and green leaves shaking in the wind.

Chameleons can change colour at will to match their surroundings.

As the animal’s eyes record the colours in its immediate environment, certain nerves send messages to hormones, which react by stimulating pigment-bearing cells (chromatophores) to change their concentration, distribution and position.

Thus the chameleon changes colour.

This is in contrast with the involuntary colour change of other creatures, depending on seasonal changes of temperature and variations in lighting or environmental colour.

Conclusion


This are just but a few example that show clearly that wild animals can also play the role of master of disguise.

They do not have to be aided by special effects in order to fool others.

They only have to be themselves, yes, masters of disguise.