7 Masters of Disguise in the Animal Kingdom

Do you ever wish you could just quietly sink into a hole or melt into the background to avoid someone? Well, unfortunately for us, we’re not usually allowed to do that, but it’s a legitimate survival strategy in the animal world, especially for insects and fish. Lots of our animal cousins blend into their backgrounds with color patterns that match bark, grasses, and other habitats, but some go the extra mile: they pretend to be someone else.

1. Leafy sea dragon Check out the picture below. Looks like a clump of kelp or something, right?

A leafy sea dragon floating in the water, looking like a patch of seaweed.

Look again. What you’re actually seeing is a leafy sea dragon, a seahorse relative found in Australia. While it might not have the same sleek, familiar body type as the seahorse, it does have another trick up its sleeve: it hides from potential predators by looking like some boring old ocean detritus. Like the seaweeds they imitate, they drift through the ocean waters, and yes, the men are responsible for raising the young of the household. Gender progressivism and camouflage in one package!

2. Owl butterfly


You know how it is. You’re drifting through the evening looking for an insect to round off your meal when you suddenly spot an owl that looks ready to chow down. Time to duck out of the way and head in the opposite direction before you’re noticed. Only this time, you got totally played by a butterfly: a butterfly with a big eye spot designed to stand out, looking like the eyes of a hungry owl glowing in the dark.

3. Mimic Octopus

One of my personal favorites, and not just because I love octopi.

A mimic octopus on the sea floor, looking very stripy.

The mimic octopus, native to Indonesia, takes color-changing very seriously. It doesn’t just blend in with its background; it’s capable of pretending to be other ocean animals in addition to plants, hiding in plain sight from potential predators and prey alike. In this image, it’s pretending to be a cluster of poisonous sea snakes. But it’s not just faking the look: these intelligent creatures also mimic the behaviors of the animals they’re impersonating. Pretty nifty, eh?

4. Mural moth


Moths are famous for being able to imitate their environments to blend in, but the mural moth is really something special. It has coloration that mimics the appearance of other insects, but it goes one step further: viewed from above, the moth looks like a pair of bugs eating some bird droppings. But there’s more! These moths also produce a bird poop-like odor to add to the illusion. Above and beyond in the service of camouflage.

5. Leaf insects

Also known as walking leaves, these examples from the insect world are rather impressive.

A leaf insect resting on a person's hand. They blend in impeccably with leafy trees and shrubs, which keeps them safe from predators looking for a tasty snack, and as you can see in this image, even when they’re away from their leafy homes, they still give a credible imitation. Evolution 1, Predators 0.

6. Malaysian orchid mantis

Mantises are found in lots of regions of the world, but Malaysia has something particularly special; a beautiful white variant that evolved to blend in with orchids. They’re difficult to spot in amongst the petals of the flowers they call home, which gives them a definite advantage when it comes to evading animals that might view them as food; they look so much like orchid flowers that the eye skates right over them!

7. Scorpionfish

Coral, or something else?

A scorpionfish camouflaged in coral.

You can probably see the fish lurking in this picture, but check out that coloring and rough skin. Scorpionfish, including this one, have evolved to hide in corals by masquerading as the coral itself. This keeps them safe from predators, but it can also be menacing for visitors to coral, because they have sharp venomous spines, and if you don’t look where you’re doing, you just might run into one.

Photo credits: Lyn Gately, D. Gordon E. Robertson, Steve Childs, Alexey Yakovlev, Matthew Kenwrick, Luc Viator and prilfish. Top Photo from Thinkstock

454 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for the article.

Anastasia Z.
Anastasia Z.2 years ago

beautiful ))

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

all of these are so awesome. shared

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O.2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Valerie A.
Valerie A.3 years ago

Thanks

Alison A.
Alison A.3 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Shelley G.
S G.3 years ago

Very cool, the wonders of mother nature never cease to amaze...
Thanks for posting...

Michelle M.
Michelle M.3 years ago

very interesting, thanx for sharing! =0)

Andras C.
Andras C.3 years ago

I find it so satisfying to learn about the wonders of nature. I will never stop being "awed" by the spectacle of the kinds of things I saw here.
Thank you.