I wouldn’t if I were you!

Sometimes the best camouflage actually attracts attention to an animal—bold colors, patterns or shapes that are like neon warning signals to potential predators. Sometimes these markings really do mean danger, but often the colorful critters are just bluffing. When an animal has markings that make it look like another animal that is dangerous, that is called mimicry. For example, several moths and caterpillars have large spots on their wings and backs that look like the eyes of a much larger animal, such as a snake.

Similarly, the Pacific gopher snake—which is not venomous or aggressive—looks a lot like a rattlesnake.  When another animal comes along and thinks of making dinner out of a gopher snake, the gopher snake does its best rattlesnake impression: it flattens its head into a diamond shape, hisses, and beats its tail against the dry grass to make a rattling sound. With luck, the predator won’t want to come close enough to call the gopher snake’s bluff!

Another example of mimicry involves the monarch butterfly, which is toxic and very nasty to eat.  Its bright orange coloration is a warning to birds to leave it alone. The non-toxic viceroy butterfly has developed colors and wing patterns that are very similar to those of the monarch—and so most birds won’t take a chance by taste-testing it!

Of course, not all bright colors are meant to scare other animals away. Some animals also have special, colorful markings to attract a mate during courtship like the peacock.

See other types of camouflage by following the links on the right side of the page.

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