Now you see me, now you don’t!
The most basic and common type of camouflage is for the colors and patterns of an animal’s fur, feathers, scales or skin to match the colors and patterns of its surroundings. For example, deer and other forest animals are often shades of brown, while polar bears and many other arctic creatures appear white.
A New Look For the Season
But what happens if the color of the animal’s surroundings changes? This happens to many animals every year as the seasons change. A white arctic hare may blend in perfectly with a snowy winter environment, but when the snow melts in the summer, white suddenly isn’t so secretive! To deal with this, the hare sheds its white fur and grows a new brown coat—perfect for the rocks and patchy bare ground of an arctic summer. Can you think of another animal that changes color with the seasons?
The Quick Change
Some animals take color-changing a step further and can change almost instantly, at any time of the year, to blend in with many different backgrounds. This doesn’t work for birds or mammals, which have to grow new feathers or fur to change colors, but some reptiles, fish, amphibians, and other animals are experts in the art of the quick change. These animals have chromatophores, or color changing cells, in their skin that can contract or expand to make the animal change color.
Two famous color-shifters are the octopus and the chameleon. Each of these can alter its shades not only to improve its camouflage but also as a way of showing emotion or mood.
The octopus can go even further—when it is camouflaged on a bumpy rock, it will change not only its color but also the texture of its skin, going from smooth to pebbly to better match the rock! When threatened, an octopus will quickly turn a whole series of different colors, from pink to tan to grey before it makes its escape in a cloud of ink.
See other types of camouflage by following the links on the right side of the page.