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Masters of Disguise


In the constant evolutionary battle between predator and prey, amazing adaptations evolved to help them be more efficient at hunting or avoiding being hunted. Because of this, animals have evolved interesting and elaborate techniques to avoid detection. Camouflage is a trait seen in many different animals and in many different forms. Whether it's through natural coloration, or the manipulation of colors and textures, animals have some cool ways to avoid being seen. You’ve probably walked past many well hidden creatures along the trail. So who are some of these masters of disguise? Let’s get into it! 



Countershading is one of the most basic forms of camouflage in nature. This adaptation is commonly seen in animals that live in environments like the air or the ocean, where predators and prey can be above or below you. The way it works is, the tops of animals are dark, and the bottoms of the animal are light. For example, an orca is black on top and white on their bellies. This makes it hard for their prey to spot them, because if they are looking down from above, their dark tops blend in with the dark ocean floor, and if they are looking up at them from below, their light bellies blend in with the bright sunny surface. This is seen in so many different species, including penguins, cuttlefish, fish, hawks, and swallows. It's even seen in land animals that live in vertical environments, like squirrels and mountain goats. This is a very common adaptation and you’ll probably notice it all the time now.  



Animals use many different visual strategies used to avoid detection. Some animals have patterns in their skin, fur, and feathers that help them to match the patterns of the environments they spend the most of their time in. For example, eastern screech owls match the patterns of the tree bark they perch near in the trees. Polar bears are an interesting example as well because their skin is black which helps them to retain heat and stay warm, but their fur scatters light which gives them the white color they need to match their icy environment. Arctic foxes also have this type of fur, but they lose it in the summer so they can match their summer environment as well. Zebras are a special case because their stripes stand out very easily, but they are used instead to confuse their predators by producing optical illusions that make it hard for the predator to differentiate their shapes as well as to gauge the direction they’re moving in.



Some animals can quickly change the color of their skin to match many different environments. The masters of this type of camouflage are the cephalopods, which include octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. These animals have specialized color cells called chromatophores. These cells come in many colors including red, yellow, and brown. The way they work is by contracting the cells to expand the color pigments on command, allowing them to match the patterns of their environment. They also have iridophores which give them shiny blue green colors, and leucophores which help to reflect more color from their environment. Not only this, but these animals can also change their skin texture to match their environment as well! What makes this even more impressive is that cephalopods are colorblind. They see the world in shades of gray and use their natural colors to do their best to match up. And they do pretty well!



When it comes to the Chameleon, it's not as simple as a pigment in their skin. Chameleons do have yellow and red colored pigments in their skin, as well as the dark melanin pigments that we humans have in our skin. But this doesn’t explain their green color they have while at rest. As it turns out, chameleons have crystal structures in their skin cells that can expand and contract to refract different color wavelengths, and when it passes through the colored pigments already in the cells, it creates the color that is visible to our eyes. So at rest, chameleons are green, because the crystal structures are refracting the blue wavelength, which passes through the yellow pigments and produces a visible green. Because these crystals can rearrange their structures, they have the whole spectrum of color to play with. When the crystals are aligned close together, they reflect blue and green, and as they are spaced further apart they reflect all the way up to the oranges and reds. 


These are just a few of the many tactics animals use to give them the edge in the predator prey relationship. There are many more techniques too, including species like insects that have evolved to have their bodies mimic parts of their environment like sticks and leaves. Color manipulation is also used for other important parts of life like attracting mates and defending territory. And on top of all that, it makes our world that much more beautiful and interesting to be a part of.


Countershading


Fur patterns


Octopus 


Chameleon 


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