- Long-eared owls blend in visually and also fly in near-perfect silence.
- There are both blue and white arctic foxes, and the white ones turn brown and grey during summer.
- Arctic hares are the snow-white prey of arctic foxes. Some of them change colors seasonally, but those furthest north stay white year-round.
- Leopards famously use their beautiful spots, or rosettes, to blend in while lurking in the trees.
One of the more amazing facts about animals is how so many of them use camouflage to either hide from predators or even hide from potential prey. A well-camouflaged animal simply blends into its surroundings, whether it is the ocean floor, the forest floor, or the leaves or bark of a tree. Sometimes, animal camouflage is so complete that the animal seems to disappear! Here are 10 examples of animal camouflage that make the animal basically invisible.
#10 Walkingstick — Was That Twig There Before?
As their name suggests, these insects of the order Phasmatodea resemble twigs or sticks, and some species that live in the tropics resemble leaves. They are found everywhere on earth save Patagonia and Antarctica. When they stop moving, as they do when they sense a predator nearby, they are almost impossible to see. There are over 300 species of walkingstick insects, and they range in length from .5 of an inch to as much as 12 inches.
Most walkingsticks are brownish, gray, or green, with a striped head. They feed at night on the leaves of the shrubs and trees that give them shelter and can sometimes become a pest, especially on oaks. By the way, if imitating a twig doesn’t deter a predator or even a human collector, the walkingstick can spray an offensive fluid. Other walkingsticks protect themselves with spines sharp enough to inflict wounds.
#9 Chameleon — Master of Animal Camouflage
The name of this lizard is nearly synonymous with animal camouflage as its ability to change the color and pattern of its skin is nearly unrivaled. They are lizards of warm climates and are found in parts of the Middle East, southwestern Asia, and southern Europe, Madagascar, nearly all of Africa, and parts of India and Sri Lanka. There are now populations in Hawaii, Florida, and California. They thrive in rain forests as well as deserts.
The chameleon not only changes color to escape predators but to hide from prey, as it is itself an efficient predator. They have eyes like turrets that can move independently of each other, but when focused on the prey they work together to give the lizard three-dimensional vision. Some species of these lizards are so good at animal camouflage that they change color according to the vision of theIR predator. For example, many birds of prey can sense ultraviolet light, and the chameleon will adjust its colors accordingly.
#8 Scorpionfish — Watch Your Step!
The scorpionfish is not only a master of animal camouflage but is one of the most venomous fish in the world. A huge family of 100 to 200 species, they are found all over the world in warm waters but are most common in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Scorpionfish are about 8 to 12 inches long and weigh a little over 3 pounds.
Scorpionfish get their name because of the dangerous stinging spines found on their body, especially in their dorsal fin. The spines are covered in venomous mucus and protect the animals from predators, but their coloring helps to hide the fish from potential prey. These include shrimp and crabs. The stonefish is especially adept at this, for as its name says, it resembles a stone lying on the floor of the sea. Because a lot of scorpionfish live in shallow waters, this makes them something of a hazard for scuba divers and snorkelers. Despite this, people catch scorpionfish because their flesh is good eating.
The conservation status of scorpionfish is not known right now. Learn more about scorpionfish here.
#7 Nightjar — A Little Too Well-Camouflaged?
The nightjar is a medium-sized bird that is active at night or at dusk. They have tiny bills, large mouths, and long wings and are found everywhere save New Zealand and some parts of Oceania. Because they have their nests on the ground, their plumage comes in shades of brown, buff, gray and black, which allows them to blend in with the forest floor. Not only this but during the day these birds tend to lay along tree branches instead of sitting on them like other birds. This also helps to hide them.
Nightjars are 10 to 12 inches in length, weigh around 0.18 of a pound and live 4 years on average. Despite its skill at animal camouflage, some nightjar species are Critically Endangered. This may be because these birds rest on roads and get run over by cars.
#6 Crab Spider — Beautiful and Deadly
The crab spider gets its name because it holds its front legs and scuttles much the way a tiny crab would. There are over 2000 species of Thomisidae crab spider, and they live all over the world. They’re also called flower spiders because they sometimes sit on a flower and wait for prey such as a butterfly or other pollinator to come. Then they ambush it. They range in size from about 0.16 of an inch to 0.3 of an inch.
Some crab spider species are able to change their color to match the color of the flower they rest on. Not only this, the spider sometimes turns the color of their prey. Other crab spiders mimic tree bark or bird droppings. In some crab spider species, the females are many times larger than the males. Their conservation status is not extinct.
#5 Giraffe — Surprisingly Hard to See
The giraffe is proof that animal camouflage isn’t just for little animals. Found in several locations in Africa, the giraffe is, famously, the tallest animal on earth. It can grow from 17 to nearly 19 feet tall, mostly because of its long neck, and males are bigger and taller than females. The animal also has a prehensile tongue and upper lip that are good for stripping leaves off of trees.
Besides its long neck, the giraffe is known for the attractive patches and blotches on its skin. These patches are shades of brown, orange, or black and separated by cream-colored or white pelage, and they serve as a very good form of camouflage. Despite its size, a giraffe that is standing absolutely still in the light and shadow of trees is very hard to see. This may be more important for giraffe calves than for adults, who are big and strong enough to defend themselves against predators such as lions.
#4 Leopard — Won’t See One Until It’s Too Late
Not all large beasts good at animal camouflage use it to hide from predators. The leopard’s only real enemy is its cousin the lion, and if there are no lions in its territory, this big cat is the apex predator. It is not only found in Africa but in some parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, in India, Southeast Asia, and even East Asia. It is a large but lithe cat whose fur is famously full of rosettes. These rosettes are what allow the leopard to hide in trees and wait, unnoticed, for prey.
Male leopards are bigger and heavier than females. They’re about 23.5 to 27.5 inches at the shoulder, while the females are a couple of inches shorter. Males weigh between 82 and 198 pounds, while females weigh between 62 and 132 pounds.
The conservation status of the leopard varies depending on where it’s found. The Javan leopard is considered Critically Endangered, and some subspecies have been extirpated from their original habitat. Overall, the leopard is considered Vulnerable. Learn more about this beautiful, important cat here.
#3 Arctic Hare — Seems Made of Snow Itself
This hare is famous for both living in the Arctic and for its pure white fur. This animal camouflage allows it to nearly disappear into the snowy landscape where it lives.
It is a big hare and can range from 17 to 28 inches long without counting the length of the tail and can weigh between 6 and 12 pounds. In the more southern part of its range, its fur turns gray or brown during the summer then turns snowy white in the winter. But in the extreme north, the hare’s fur stays white all year.
It’s surprising that such a small creature can survive such a frigid climate. Luckily, arctic hares are equipped with short ears and nose, compact bodies, high body fat, and thick fur. Their small size gives them easy access to food within small rock crevices other animals can’t reach. So even in the harsh and bare landscape, they manage to find moss and woody plants, berries, buds, leaves, bark, and roots. But they’ll also scavenge among fish and reindeer carcasses to survive.
#2 Arctic Fox — Crafty Camouflage
If there must be an Arctic Hare, there must be an Arctic Fox that hunts it. In this case, the animal’s white fur camouflages it from its prey as well as its predators. The Arctic fox, which is smaller than most other foxes, is eaten by the larger red fox, grizzly bears, wolverines, larger birds of prey, and wolves.
There are actually two Arctic fox morphs. One has a blue coat and the other has a white coat, and the white-coated Arctic fox, like the Arctic hare, is gray and brown during the summer. Almost all Arctic foxes are the white morph type.
#1 Long-Eared Owl — Can’t See or Hear it Coming
Like nearly every other species of owl, the long-eared owl comes in shades of brown, black, gray, and buff, the better to let it blend into the woods where it lives. Even during the daytime, it is hard to see as it rests in the crotch of a tree. Found in North America, Eurasia, Europe, and Asia, this bird augments its animal camouflage with near-silent wingbeats. The upshot is the prey neither sees nor hears the bird coming.
The long-eared owl resembles the great horned owl in that it has ear tufts, but it’s smaller and slimmer. This doesn’t mean it’s a small bird. The owl can be 12 to 16 inches long and have a wingspan of about 3 feet. Its conservation status is Least Concern, though there are areas where its population is declining. Learn more about the long-eared owl here.
Bonus: Three More Animal Masters of Disguise
Our list of well-camouflaged animals contained creatures of all types from a variety of habitats. We couldn’t resist offering three more for your consideration – each from a different environment. From the bottom of the sea to the leaves on the trees – these animals are almost impossible to spy with the naked eye!
Flounders begin life as normal-looking larvae with one eye on either side of their heads before undergoing a brutal metamorphosis that results in a flat adult. Not only do these fish go flat – their eyes travel around to the top of their heads so they can bury themselves on the bottom of the ocean floor and see what’s coming. The combination of this practice with their speckled, seabed-colored skin allows the fish to hide from predators and to ambush prey like worms, shrimp, and fish larvae.
Katydids are fortunate insects with bodies that resemble the leaves that they dwell on. Their leafy bodies help them to evade birds, frogs, snakes, and other predators. Katydids are nocturnal creatures that have adapted to a daytime roosting position that makes them even more difficult to spot. Some unfortunate katydids inherit a genetic mutation that makes them bright pink. Unless they happen to live on a pink rose bush – those poor bugs are out of luck!
Horned lizards depend on their superb camouflage to avoid detection by predators in their desert habitat. Their first method of defense when threatened is to remain completely motionless and unnoticed. If that doesn’t work – they run around in short bursts then stop abruptly to confuse the predator. If the running and stopping fails – they employ their last resort – puffing up their bodies to make them appear too difficult to swallow. Thankfully, their camouflage works most of the time!
Top 10 Camouflaged Animals Summary
Here is a list of the top 10 animals with camouflage so good they’re basically invisible:
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Feng Yu/Shutterstock.com
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