10 Creatures With Exceptionally Deceptive Disguises

A leafy sea dragon in blue water

GaetanoDGargiulo Imagery / Getty Images

Camouflage and mimicry are traits found across the animal kingdom, especially in prey animals. Camouflage is a coloration, pattern, or tactic that animals use to blend into their surroundings. Some animals have permanent camouflage, while others have specialized skin that can change color and texture according to the environment. 

Mimicry is a similar concept, in which an animal's coloration, appearance, or behavior helps it resemble another creature or plant. Some animals, like leaf mimics, have wings or body parts that resemble dead leaves. A number of insects have prominent markings that mimic the eyes of a much larger animal. 

Here are 10 of the animal kingdom's most deceptive disguises. 

of 10

Lichen Katydid

A katydid with camouflage to blend into its lichen background

Robert Oelman / Getty Images

The lichen katydid has ornate camouflage that helps it hide in beard lichens (sometimes called old man's beard), which make up both the katydid's primary habitat and food source. Its camouflage matches the pale green of the lichen, and its legs are covered in spiny protrusions that look much the same as the offshoots the lichen produces. The lichen katydid is found in the canopy of topical rainforests in South America and Central America.

of 10

Pygmy Seahorse

A pink and white seahorse blends into the coral in the background

Stephen Frink / Getty Images

Pygmy seahorses can change color and sprout tubercles to match the color and texture of nearby coral. They are among the smallest seahorses and would be an easy target for a number of predators if not for their camouflage. When they are born, they are a dull brown color, but when they find their preferred environment—a type of coral called sea fans—they transform to blend in with that specific sea fan

of 10

Spicebush Swallowtail

A green caterpillar with yellow and back eyespots on a green leaf

Joe McDonald / Getty Images

In its caterpillar form, the spicebush swallowtail has a vivid green color and large eyespots that mimic a snake head. It most resembles the smooth green snake, which shares its habitat in the eastern United States. The caterpillars are commonly preyed upon by birds, and their mimicry serves as a defensive mechanism. The disguise is heightened by a retractable, Y-shaped body part called an osmeterium, which resembles a snake's forked tongue. When threatened, the osmeterium appears and secretes a chemical that wards off some predators.

of 10

Orange Oakleaf

A butterfly with brown wings that resemble a dead leaf

Floya1013 / Getty Images

With its wings closed, the orange oakleaf closely resembles a dried-up, dead leaf. Its camouflage is so intricate that even the veins of a leaf are represented on its wings. Once unfolded, though, the topside of its wings display a brilliant blue, black, and yellow pattern. 

Birds are common predators. The butterflies will evade them by flying to the ground and folding their wings to blend into leaf litter. The orange oakleaf is native to tropical regions in Asia from India to Japan.

of 10

Leafy Sea Dragon

A sea creature with complex fins that resemble sea plants

Tom Applegate / Getty Images

The leafy sea dragon is a relative of the sea horse with leaflike appendages that help it blend in with seaweed and kelp forests. Since it's not a powerful swimmer, it relies on this camouflage to evade its predators. The sea dragon is native only to the oceans off the coast of southern Australia. Due to its unique appearance, it became a favorite as an aquatic pet, and this contributed to a noticeable decline in the population by the 1990s. The Australian government listed the sea dragon as a protected species in 1999, and its population has since rebounded. 

of 10

Orchid Mantis

A white mantis that resembles a flower sits on a green leaf

Dani Daniar / EyeEm / Getty Images

The orchid mantis is a close relative of the praying mantis that boasts impressive camouflage that mimics a flower. It is found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. It perches atop flowering plants, deceiving butterflies and other pollinators that are its preferred prey. Though its back legs are highly ornamental, it has the strong, spined forelegs common to all mantids, which allow it to snatch its prey from the air. 

of 10

Ant-Mimicking Spider

A spider that resembles an ant on wood bark

Panscience Images / Getty Images

Ant-mimicking spiders are a genus of about 300 spider species around the world that mimic ants. Like all spiders, they have eight legs, but will often raise their forelegs like antennae to give the appearance of a six-legged ant instead. 

Though humans tend to fear spiders more than ants, the same is not true for some insect predators. Ants can sting, bite, and spray formic acid to defend themselves from attack. Ant-mimicking spiders are relatively defenseless in comparison, and their resemblance to ants can deter predators. Some spiders are such good mimics that they can live as part of an ant colony without detection

of 10

Gray Hairstreak

A gray butterfly with markings that resemble a body on the rear of its wings

jamesdvdsn / Getty Images

The gray hairstreak butterfly has a false head pattern on its hind wings, complete with a set of false antennae. A 2012 study showed that the false head helps the butterflies escape attacks from jumping spiders. Since the jumping spider is smaller than the butterfly, it relies on its keen eyesight to locate the butterfly's head and deliver a precise, venomous bite to kill its prey. The gray hairstreak's disguise was effective at convincing jumping spiders to attack the false head instead, offering the butterfly a chance to escape.

of 10

Pharaoh Cuttlefish

A male and female cuttlefish blending into the colorful coral background

Placebo365 / Getty Images

The pharaoh cuttlefish is a cephalopod capable of rapidly changing its skin color and texture to match its surroundings. Its skin contains thousands of pigment-filled organs called chromatophores that can change color, as well as dermal muscles that contract and relax to alter the skin's texture. 

While hunting, the pharaoh cuttlefish will extend and flap its arms in a way that makes it resemble a hermit crab. Researchers believe this behavior might be a way to disarm its prey—a study found that cuttlefish that employed this tactic caught twice as many fish as those that did not

of 10

Reef Stonefish

A bumpy stonefish hides in dead coral

Gerard Soury / Getty Images

The reef stonefish has camouflage that matches the coral and rock reefs where it lives. To perfect its disguise, it can even promote algae growth on its skin. The stonefish is an ambush predator, hiding among reefs and rocks until unsuspecting prey drifts by. 

The stonefish also earns the distinction as the world's most venomous fish. It does not, however, use its toxin as a hunting tactic. Instead, the venomous spines on its back are a defensive mechanism, only appearing when the fish feels threatened.