11 Amazing Examples of Insect Camouflage

Blending in

Photo: IrinaK/Shutterstock

In nature there are many ways to protect yourself from potential predators: armor, poison, noxious smell, size or speed, etc. But perhaps no form of protection is as cunning as camouflage. This is especially true among insects, whose body form has allowed for an impressive array of biological mimicry and deception. Some of these bugs might be indistinguishable from their surroundings, like the walking stick insect pictured here. Can you pick them out?

Dead leaf mantis

Photo: Adrian Pingstone [Public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

This preying mantis looks like it has been covered in dead leaves; in fact, some of those "leaves" are actually parts of its own body. The incredibly convincing camouflage helps hide them from predators, but it also helps them to be predators, too. A prey animal lurking in the leaf litter wouldn't know what hit it if it ran into one of these illusive hunters.

Dead leaf butterfly

Photo: Hsu Hong Lin [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

The underside of this butterfly's wings are truly a remarkable work of evolutionary art; they look just like a dead leaf, with faded browns, blemish spots, even jagged edges. Meanwhile, the upperside of the insect's wings display bright colors more typical of butterflies. If they're looking for mates, they'll flash their colors, but if they want to hide from predators, they simply close their wings.

Leaf katydid

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The camouflage of this leaf katydid is so accurate that it even mimics a leaf's blemishes. Katydids are also often called "bush crickets," but unlike their cricket and grasshopper cousins, both males and females rub their wings together to sing to each other.

Walking stick

Photo: Gilles San Martin [CC BY SA-2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

The stick insects of the order Phasmatodea are truly some of the most bizarre critters on the planet. Their body has become so elongated that they appear like sticks, twigs or thin branches. When one of these guys is resting still on a pile of twigs or at the end of a tree branch, they are almost impossible to spot.

Orchid mantis

Photo: Vince Adam/Shutterstock

These flowery predators might look like the flamboyant sort, but they're actually ruthless killers. They use their camouflage, which mimics a flower petal, to hide from their prey. When flies and other pollinators approach the flower with dreams of sweet nectar, the orchid mantis strikes.

Sand grasshopper

Photo: Don DeBold [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Calling these guys "grasshoppers" might seem like a misnomer due to their sandy habitat (and perfectly-matching camouflage), but they often use their camouflage to safely "hop" between brownish grasses adapted to sandy soils.

Walking leaf

Photo: Nandini Velho [CC BY SA-3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

Walking leaf insects are related to the walking sticks, but are in their own family (Phylliidae). As their name suggests, they have evolved to mimic leaves rather than sticks, though their long bodies allow them to take the form of a whole leafed branch — so their camouflage is particularly advanced.

Peppered moth

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These remarkably adaptable bugs are often used as a textbook example of natural selection in action. Originally they evolved their "peppered" design to blend in perfectly when resting on light-colored trees and lichens. But due to excess pollution during the Industrial Revolution in England, many lichens died out and trees became blackened with soot. This made it easier for predators to find the moths, so the population began to evolve a darker, sooty coloration.

Today the lighter-colored moths are again commonplace, as environmental standards have improved.

Assassin bug

Photo: Orionmystery [CC BY SA-3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

This insect has taken a different, far creepier strategy for camouflage. Acanthaspis petax, a type of assassin bug, stacks the corpses of its victims on its back to hide itself from predators. Though it may seem like an odd strategy, studies have shown that corpse-carrying assassin bugs are 10 times less likely to be attacked by spiders.

Thorn bug

Photo: Marshal Hedin [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

These deceptive insects, which are related to cicadas and leafhoppers, have developed enlarged and ornate pronotums, which resemble thorns on a branch. Not only does this aid in camouflaging them to look like a part of the plant they're resting on, but it also discourages predators of both the bugs and the plant from taking a bite for fear of getting pierced.

Planthopper

Photo: Doug Lemke/Shutterstock

These grasshopper-like insects are distinguished by their excellent camouflage, designed to hide them among the leaves they feed upon. Despite their names, however, planthoppers only hop when they have to, preferring to move slowly so as not to attract attention, making them even more difficult to spot! (As nymphs, planthoppers put on a flashy show to stay safe instead of relying on camouflage to stay safe.)