15 Amazing Camouflaged Animals

bright white arctic fox walks through white snow in the sun

Lucie Gagnon / Getty Images

Some animals don't just know their surroundings, they are their surroundings. Or at least that's what their enemies think.

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 14 animals with incredible camouflaging abilities — plus one surprising creature that may not be as interested in camouflage as you thought.

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green and blue chameleon climbs through tree branches with matching colors

Michelle McDonald / Getty Images

Few animals are as famous for camouflage as chameleons, whose color-changing skills have made them icons of adaptability. The key is the chromatophore, a type of pigmented cell layered underneath chameleons' transparent outer skin. However, contrary to popular belief, chameleons don't actually change colors to camouflage themselves. Instead, scientists think they change colors to communicate.

Certain hues signal certain moods; chameleons darken their colors when afraid and brighten them when they are excited. Some colors advertise that the animal is ready to mate.

Another reason chameleons change colors is to regulate their body temperature. They alter their coloring to affect how much heat they absorb from the sun.

While the real reason for chameleons' famous ability to change colors may have surprised you, don't worry. There are plenty of other creatures that actually camouflage like professionals.

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Common Baron Caterpillar

furry green caterpillar extended on large mango leaf

teptong / Getty Images

If you're a hungry bird in western Malaysia, good luck finding any common baron caterpillars. Plenty of other butterfly 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 butterflies, 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 danger the baron's camouflage skills can protect them from.

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Pygmy Seahorse

two pink and white pygmy seahorses hide among pink coral

Stephen Frink / Getty Images

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.

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Mossy Leaf-Tailed Gecko

gecko stands on tree trunk with matching moss and bark patterning

Frank Vassen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It may look like this lizard has been overrun with moss, but that's its skin. Found only in the forests of Madagascar, the mossy leaf-tailed gecko is aptly named.

Since these geckos live in trees, they've evolved to have moss- and bark-colored skin, complete with dermal (skin) flaps that remove their outline by preventing shadows from being cast by their bodies. As a bonus, much like chameleons, they can also change their skin color to match their background.

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Eastern Screech Owl

tan and gray eastern screech owl hides in tree trunk cavity and looks out

Jennifer McCallum / Getty Images

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.

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Tawny Frogmouth

gray tawny frogmouth up against tree trunk lifts head high

C.Coverdale / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Although it is not an owl itself, the tawny frogmouth camouflages itself in a similar way to the Eastern screech owl. It too has coloring that helps it blend into the trees it frequents. However, the tawny frogmouth has an added advantage: the skill to mimic tree branches. With an uncanny ability to remain stone-still for long periods of time, combined with dexterous feathers that can be flattened, the tawny frogmouth can easily make itself virtually undetectable once it closes its eyes and tilts back its head.

These creatures can even find their food while remaining camouflaged. They do not fly or use their talons to catch prey. Instead, they sit and wait for prey — mainly insects — to come to them as they remain still in the trees.

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white and purple stonefish blending in with surrounding coral

Gerard Soury / Getty Images

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 venomous 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 venom. They have 13 sharp dorsal spines packed with a potent neurotoxin that can be fatal to humans if stepped on.

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two green katydids perch on large green leaves

SaraYeomans / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If you don't immediately see both katydids in this photo, don't feel bad. Their leaflike bodies also help them evade countless birds, frogs, snakes, and other predators around the world.

Also known as bush crickets, katydids are primarily nocturnal. To protect themselves during the day, they enter a specific diurnal roosting posture (position for day rest) that maximizes their ability to blend in with their surroundings.

Not all katydids are skilled in camouflage, however. In rare cases, a genetic mutation will cause a katydid to be bright pink, which would obviously make it easy to notice among green leaves.

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gray flounder with black spots rests flat on ocean floor and blends in

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As a type of flatfish, flounder are ideally suited to life on the ocean floor. They lie onto the seabed, covering their thin bodies with a layer of sand and leaving only their eyes peeking out. This practice, combined with their camouflaging speckled skin, helps them blend in seamlessly with the bottom of the sea. It offers safety from predators and lets them ambush prey like shrimp, worms, and fish larvae.

When flounder are larvae themselves, they have one eye on either side of their heads. As they metamorphize, one eye drifts to the other side so that both eyes are together. This is what allows them to swim and hide with both eyes looking up, despite technically being on their sides.

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Egyptian Nightjar

tan nightjar bird sits on sandy ground and looks away

Abdelrahman M. Hassanein / Getty Images

Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds found practically worldwide. They are often called "goatsuckers" due to a false myth about their stealing goats' milk. (They don't; they just stay near goats to eat the insects they attract.)

They nest on the ground, making them easy targets, which is their main reason for needing to conceal themselves.

Rather than any species-specific coloring, nightjars' camouflage abilities can be attributed to their intellect and strategic thinking. Each bird looks different, and each chooses its personal nesting site based on what will best complement its individual markings. This will ensure both their own survival and the survival of their offspring.

Research published in 2017 on the topic put forward two theories for how nightjars develop this ability. First is that they are aware of their own appearance. Alternatively, the birds may have learned over time what types of backgrounds are most effective for camouflaging themselves and stick with those.

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Arctic Fox

bright white arctic fox curls up on bed of white snow

SeppFriedhuber / Getty Images

The Arctic fox's stark white coat may grab our attention because of its beauty, but it does the opposite to predators in the tundra. This ideal attire helps the fox disappear among the white snow, hiding it from the eagles, polar bears, and wolves that hunt it. As a bonus, the fur keeps it sufficiently warm in temperatures as low as 58 degrees below zero.

But what happens when the weather warms and the snow melts away? When the seasons change, the Arctic fox sheds its white coat and dons one that is brown and blond to help it blend in with rocks and plants.

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jaguar in grass peeks out from behind bush branches

Zach Etheridge / Getty Images

As the third-largest cat in the world, the jaguar keeps to the dense rainforests and wetlands. Its tawny spotted coat makes it easily recognizable for us, but difficult for other animals to locate. The pattern breaks up the jaguar's outline, helping it blend in with a variety of backgrounds — such as tree branches and tall grass.

It can be easy to confuse the jaguar with animals like cheetahs and leopards because of their similar patterning. While all of their coats help them conceal themselves, the jaguar's camouflaging tool is unique because of its irregular rosettes (circular markings) and the small spots within them.

Unfortunately, jaguar's spots have been insufficient for hiding them from their most dangerous predator: humans. Once widespread across North and South America, jaguars are now restricted to the latter, plus some Central American holdouts and possibly a few in Mexico. One of the last wild jaguars in the United States was killed in 2018.

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Stick Insect

stick insect sits tall on branch and blends in

natfu / Getty Images

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 threatened, 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 burn and even cause temporary blindness.

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brown tan and yellow patterned cuttlefish rests on ocean floor near coral

Velvetfish / Getty Images

Dubbed the "chameleon of the sea," a cuttlefish's ability to change colors to match its surroundings takes camouflage to new heights. Every square millimeter of their bodies holds up to 200 color-changing chromatophores (pigment cells) layered atop other cells that reflect light. These allow the cephalopod to rapidly change colors and even create chromatically complex patterns. In addition, it has muscles that can change the texture of its skin from smooth to rough, allowing it to blend in with rocks and reefs when necessary.

Cuttlefish's appearance-altering skills even go beyond mere camouflage. It can use color and light to "glow," which mesmerizes fish that can then easily become prey.

Here you can see a cuttlefish changing its colors:

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human lying on dirt ground covered in leaves as camouflage

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jose D. Lujano/DVIDSHUB / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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 hunting 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.

View Article Sources
  1. Moussalli, Adnan, and Devi Stuart-Fox. "Selection for Social Signalling Drives the Evolution of Chameleon Colour Change." PLOS Biology. 2008.

  2. Parkinson, Kerryn. "Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley, 1970." Australian Museum. 2021.

  3. McGrouther, Mark. "Reef Stonefish." Australian Museum. 2021.

  4. Stevens, Martin, Jolyon Troscianko, Jared K. Wilson-Aggarwal, and Claire N. Spottiswoode. "Improvement of individual camouflage through background choice in ground-nesting birds." Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2017.

  5. "One of Two Known U.S. Jaguars Shown Dead In Photo." Center for Biological Diversity. 2018.

  6. "Stick Insect." San Diego Zoo.

  7. "Twostriped walkingstick." University of Florida.

  8. "Cuttlefish Chameleons, Papuan Cuttlefish." Queensland Museum.