card
187

camouflage

OLogy Series
biology
card
187

camouflage

OLogy Series
biology

Many other animals use camouflage -- colors, textures, or patterns that help them blend in with their environment. Some animals, like the flounder, can change to blend in with their environment, another form of camouflage. Animals use camouflage in different ways, but one thing is certain: it helps animals survive.

Seasonal Disguises
Some animals change their appearance to match their changing environments. For example, an animal's home may change with the seasons: a forest may be mostly green or brown in the summer, then white with snow in the winter. Some mammals and birds change their fur or feathers to match these changes. That's why the Arctic fox is brown in the summer and white in the winter. But what about animals like fish or lizards that don't have fur or feathers? Color changes in these animals take place in cells deep below the skin's surface. These cells are called chromatophores. Cuttlefish use chromatophores to change into many different colors and patterns to blend in with all kinds of backgrounds.

You Are What You Eat!
For some animals, the old saying "you are what you eat" takes on a whole new meaning. These animals change color depending on their diet. When one animal eats another, it consumes some of the prey's pigment -- the stuff that gives a plant or animal its color. Sometimes this pigment shows through and actually changes the color of the predator! One example is a small sea animal called the nudibranch, which lives among coral reefs. When the nudibranch eats a coral, it takes on the color of the coral. The nudibranch is constantly changing colors as it moves from coral to coral.

Sometimes an animal's camouflage makes it looks like something it's not. One example is the leafy sea dragon, which looks like:

dragon

seaweed

waves

Are you right?

Correct!

They may be relatives of sea horses, but leafy sea dragons look more like seaweed drifting in the water. If you look closely, they do have dragon-like heads, but it's their leafy appearance that keeps them safe from predators.

A polar bear's skin is black, and its fur is made of see-through hairs.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Polar bears just look white because all the hairs act like little prisms. Light shining on the hairs is reflected back as white light -- so it looks like the polar bear has white fur.

Definition: a color, pattern, or texture that helps an animal blend into its environment
Purpose: to hide from predators and prey
Examples: a zebra's stripes, a grasshopper's grassy-green color, a dolphin's bluish-gray skin

Image credits: courtesy of California Academy of Sciences, John White.