- A number of insects use plant disguises to hide from predators or fool prey. These include walking sticks, that use appearance and movement to resemble branches, and orchid mantis, that camouflage against flowers to lure prey.
- The stinging-tentacled coral, unique-looking flower hat jelly, and long-bodied sea cucumber are a few examples of plants resembling ocean dwellers.
- Animals that imitate plants can be found on land as well, such as the multipurpose rays of the star-nosed mole to the incredibly leaf-like tail and eyebrow ridges of the satanic leaf-tailed gecko.
With a planet full of diverse animals, it’s no surprise that they come in all shapes and sizes. Some animals survive solely based upon appearing to be threatening while others mimic poisonous species to fool predators. There are even predators that have developed appearances to lure prey to their eventual doom. These 10 amazing animals look just like plants, and you’ll be amazed at their reasons for doing so.
#10. Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko
The 10th place on our list is held by probably the most threatening in appearance at least when taken out of the environment the camouflage is designed for. The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is fully committed to its plant costume. This reptile not only has a tail shaped like a leaf, but it also has horned eyebrow ridges that look like branches and ridges down its body like leaf veins. This specific species also steps its game up when compared to other leaf-tailed geckos throughout the world; their coloring in the red, orange, and brown range makes them appear like a dead leaf, so even herbivores don’t mistake them for a possible meal.
This gecko’s primary purpose for plant mimicry is self-defense, and concealment isn’t the only defense mechanism the satanic leaf-tailed gecko relies on. When threatened, they will occasionally let out a tremendous scream given their small size in an attempt to frighten off predators. Found only in the rainforests of Madagascar, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is yet another unique species native to that island nation.
With the abundance of flora around us, some animals have adapted to use it for many purposes. Whether to hide from predator or prey or simply as an unintentional occurrence, these 10 animals that look like plants account for representatives across many different types of animals. Researchers continue to discover new species even today, and without a doubt, different animals that look like plants will be found.
#9. Orchid Mantis
The orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is another tricky predator on our list that uses beautiful camouflage to capture its meals. Native to Southeast Asian rainforests, this mantis perches on branches and flowers to lure unsuspecting insects into their grasp. Not only does the coloring of this species mimic the flowers they are named after, but their legs are actually formed into the shape of orchid petals as well.
The orchid mantis is not categorized by the IUCN in any category; however, they are so rare that it was only recently discovered that they actively use their appearance to draw in prey as opposed to simply hiding from them. Originally discovered in the 1800s, their remote habitat makes research exceedingly difficult.
#8. Walking Stick
Walking sticks of the order Phasmida account for more than 3,000 different species of insect. Found everywhere except Antarctica, these bugs survive by trying to hide from their predators in plain sight. Walking sticks don’t just look like a stick, some species actually sway back and forth to mimic a branch in the breeze!
A stick is the perfect disguise for this herbivore that uses powerful mouth parts called mandibles to feed on leaves. But this deception doesn’t work on all predators. Bats that hunt with echolocation are not fooled by these tricks. Depending on where they live, walking sticks may also have to watch out for hungry spiders, reptiles, birds, and primates.
Coral reefs are composed of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of individual animals called polyps. These small organisms have only one opening into their body surrounded by tentacles. These tentacles have nematocysts on them that allow the coral to sting and kill their prey which can be anything from microscopic plankton up to small fish depending on the size of the polyp. They consume their meal and then excrete any waste back out through their mouths. The hard coral that most people think of is found in shallow waters, but that is only one species. Other species are soft or can be found in deep water.
#6. Star-Nosed Mole
Star-nosed moles (Condylura cristata) are the only species of mole that live in swamps and marshes, and they are a veritable treasure trove of interesting abilities. When viewed head-on, the star-shaped nose that is the inspiration for their name gives off the appearance of a strange flower. This mole’s nose is comprised of 22 tendrils called rays, and this is much more than just an olfactory organ. Star-nosed moles have terrible eyesight and navigate their underground world primarily by touch. They touch their nose against the ground upwards of 10 times per second and receive detailed information about their environment. This allows them to find the insects they feed on, and they consume them within an amazing time of 0.25 seconds which is the fastest in the world.
Star-nosed moles spend the most time above ground compared to any other species of mole, and they don’t hibernate at all. These moles burrow deeper into the ground to combat the colder winter temperatures, but biologists are not sure how they can avoid damage to their sensitive noses in extreme cold. Furthermore, these moles are the only known mammal that can smell underwater. They perform this feat by blowing out air bubbles from their nose and sucking them back in.
#5. Flower Hat Jelly
The flower hat jelly (Olindias formosus) is our next ocean-dwelling invertebrate with striking plant characteristics. Unlike any of the other rankings on this list, the flower hat jelly looks less like a plant directly and more like a fancy hat covered in plants. This jellyfish is also unique among other jellies in that it spends a fair amount of time just sitting on the ocean floor.
The flower hat jelly has the traditional bell shape, but it also has tentacles of varying length and color some of which it curls up towards and into the top of the bell. This gives it the flower hat appearance that it is named after. These curled tentacles can quickly be unfurled to capture prey. Given their bottom-dwelling tendencies, these floating tentacles also help them to blend in with the kelp and seagrass that they spend a large amount of time near.
#4. Sea Cucumber
Back underwater for our next plant-like animal, we have the common sea cucumbers of the class Holothuroidea. Species in this class can vary greatly in size from less than 1 inch to over 6 feet long, and they look exactly like lumpy cucumbers. Using tubular feet for both locomotion and feeding, these marine invertebrates move along the seafloor and consume algae or any other invertebrate species that wanders too close. Those feet are used to push any of the scavenged food into their mouths.
Sea cucumbers can be found in environs throughout the ocean from shallow waters to very deep regions. Some species even expel their internal organs and push them towards predators as a defense mechanism. These organs are toxic to the other creatures and will eventually grow back causing no long-term damage to the cucumber.
#3. Pale Tussock Moth
The pale tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda) is the first land animal to make this list and for good reason. Like other moths, the pale tussock has a caterpillar and a final moth form, and both of these iterations of the moth look like different plants. In caterpillar form, the pale tussock is bright green with tufts of spiked hairs on its back and a brightly colored head. This allows the moth to conceal itself in the gardens where it is frequently found. In adult moth form, the furry brown and gray wings and head allow it to blend in with the bark of shade trees in its native regions of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
#2. Sea Anemone
Another marine invertebrate species that looks like a plant is the sea anemone. These animals are often found on the seafloor or coral reefs in tropical waters. They use tentacles and venomous stingers to capture prey unaware and shovel them into their tubular mouths. Giving the appearance of a harmless flower, it’s no surprise that crabs, fish, and plankton fall victim to a false sense of security around them. One larger species of anemone called the dahlia anemone (Urticina felina) is big enough to hunt starfish and jellyfish.
#1. Sea Fan
Sea fans, sea whips, and sea pens are all related marine invertebrate species that bear a striking resemblance to plants. These species form colonies on the seafloor that branch out into sizes that can be many feet across. Some sea fan species can even be several feet high. One species of sea fan (Tauroprimnoa austasensis) that has only recently been discovered makes its home in the frigid seas around Antarctica.
This is unique in that the majority of other sea fan and sea whip species are native to tropical temperature waters. Like the plants that they imitate, these animals utilize photosynthesis to obtain nutrients.
Summary of 10 Animals That Look Like Plants
Now you know that “leaves”, “branches”, and “flowers” may not always be what they appear. Here is our summary of 10 animals that resemble plants.
|Number||Animal||What It Resembles|
|3||Pale Tussock Moth||Plant (caterpillar), bark (adult)|
|5||Flower Hat Jelly||Plant|
|6||Star-Nosed Mole||Nose looks like a flower|
|8||Walking Stick||Sticks, branches|
|10||Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko||Leaf|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Galuh M/Shutterstock.com
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