Camouflage is an ancient art, and species around the planet depend on it daily for survival. Whether it’s a gecko blending into bark or a jaguar fading into foliage, blending in with one’s surroundings can mean the difference between eating and being eaten. Here are 8 animals with incredible camouflaging abilities — plus one surprising creature that may not be as interested in camouflage as you thought.
1. Pygmy Seahorse
Coral reefs are rough places to live, so their residents often use camouflage to stay safe. This is an area where the pygmy seahorse excels.
Less than an inch long and studded with round protuberances called tubercles, this small seahorse has designed itself to exactly match the coral it inhabits. It blends in so well that it was only discovered by humans after showing up among wild-caught coral in an aquarium.
2. Common Baron Caterpillar
If you’re a hungry bird in western Malaysia, good luck finding any common baron caterpillars. Plenty of other ʙᴜᴛᴛerfly larvae blend in with local plants, but few can vanish into vegetation like the baron.
Baron caterpillars evolved their elaborate shapes and colors for the single purpose of hiding from predators. This boosts their odds of surviving long enough to become common baron ʙᴜᴛᴛerflies, and therefore reproducing.
Native to India and Southeast Asia, baron caterpillars often feed on the leaves of mango trees, like the one shown. This creates tension with mango farmers, which is another ᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀ the baron’s camouflage sᴋɪʟʟs can protect them from.
If you’re ever snorkeling in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, watch out for coral reefs looking back at you. You could be seeing a stonefish, the most ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍᴏᴜs known fish on Earth.
There are many species of this creature, but they all use the same camouflage technique. With a lumpy, encrusted appearance, the aptly named stonefish blends in with a variety of reefs and rocks to successfully hide on the seafloor, waiting to ambush prey.
Their other notable defense mechanism is their ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍ. They have 13 sharp dorsal spines packed with a potent ɴᴇᴜʀᴏᴛᴏxɪɴ that can be fᴀᴛᴀʟ to humans if stepped on.
Humans don’t naturally blend in with much of their surroundings, and aside from subtle shifts in complexion, we can’t change colors like cuttlefish. However, we have found a way to camouflage ourselves in a way no other species has: clothes. Whether for ʜᴜɴᴛing for food or fighting wars, we’ve dressed to conceal ourselves for centuries.
The technology we humans use to camouflage ourselves is constantly evolving. In fact, there have been events specifically on advancing the science behind new and effective camouflage techniques.
5. Stick Insect
While most animals need a specific backdrop for their camouflage to be effective, some are so well-disguised they’re hard to detect almost anywhere. Stick insects are a good example, with twig-like bodies that let them become virtually invisible just by holding still.
Thousands of species of stick insects exist around the world, ranging in size from 1 to 12 inches. Often colored brown or green, they freeze when ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛened, sometimes swaying to mimic a branch blowing in the wind.
That’s not to say they can’t be assertive, though. The American stick insect, for example, can spray a mild acid from two glands in its thorax to thwart would-be predators. If it gets in a human’s eyes, it can ʙᴜʀɴ and even cause temporary ʙʟɪɴᴅness.
6. Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern screech owl is another master of disguise. Its tan, gray, and white coloring blends in seamlessly with the bark of trees, making it practically disappear when it hides in the trees’ cavities. It also has feathers sticking up from its head that break up its outline, making it harder to see.
Another type of Eastern screech owl called the “red morph” or “rufous morph” has more reddish-brown coloring. These owls place themselves among pine trees and changing leaves, so their camouflage is just as effective as their gray counterpart’s.
7. Caligo eurilochus (Owl Bᴜᴛᴛerfly)
The clever markings on the owl ʙᴜᴛᴛerfly are an adaptation known as Batesian mimicry, which fools small bird predators into thinking they are owl eyes, a predator that many small birds are conditioned to steer clear of.
8. Oxybelis aeneus (Brown Vine Snake)
The Brown Vine Snake disguises itself as a branch or vine as it waits for unsuspecting prey to cross its path. This snake can be found across South America, through Mexico and into south central Arizona. They’re found in trees or low shrubs.