10 Marvelously Masked Animals

mandrill, a monkey with bright blue markings and a brown mask like area around eyes

Bas Vermolen / Getty Images

Across the animal kingdom, there is a great variety in coloration and markings — but perhaps the most amusing patterns are those that make critters appear to be wearing masks. Many of these species have what is called a disruptive eye mask. With this camouflage, predators can better sneak up on prey.

On the other side of that equation, prey animals with eye masks trick predators and avoid becoming prey. Other animals use them to communicate their virility or identity.

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Southern Pink Underwing Moth Caterpillars

The skull mask of the pink underwing moth caterpillars doesn't surround the actual eyes of the insect. Instead, the oversized eyes and the double row of skeleton teeth make up the pattern on its back. As you can imagine, the skull-like pigmentation serves to scare away predators. When the caterpillar becomes threatened, it hides its real face under and displays the mask. The Australian government lists this species as endangered.

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Portrait of African mandrill in the open resort
Neurobite / Getty Images

The mandrill is the most colorful of all primate species — and the colors become more vivid as the creatures become excited. With these animals, the color is all about signaling to others how much testosterone. The more contrast between the blue and the red, the more dominant the male. Less color indicates lower status and less testosterone.

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Masked Lapwing

grey and white bird with yellow mask around eyes and beak

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The masked lapwing is so-called for its yellow wattles. These wattles develop as the bird reaches sexual maturity, and the primary function is to impress a mate. It seems that everything about this bird is loud, from its bright face to its piercing calls and aggressive nest-guarding behaviors. Those nests need guarding, since masked lapwings place them in the most unsuitable habitats: playgrounds, soccer fields, airport runways, and lawns.

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Black-Footed Ferret

black footed ferret

Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski / Getty Images

The black-footed ferret has a bandit-like mask, similar to the markings found on raccoons. These markings may allow the ferret to sneak through the burrows of its favorite food: prairie dogs. This endangered ferret is crepuscular, meaning it is most active at dawn and dusk. Black bands around the eyes may help nocturnal animals see better in the dark.

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Mute Swans

Mute Swan -- large white swan with black mask and red beak

Caroline Granycome / Flickr / CC by-SA 2.0

With their black-lined bills and large knob, mute swans also look like they're wearing masks. The knob at the base of their bill forms the majority of the covering. This protrusion, which grows larger in males during the breeding season, attracts mates. Since the basal knob reaches its largest size when there are very young cygnets in the nest, it may have another function as well.

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Red Panda

Red panda relaxes on tree branch with limbs hanging

Freder / Getty Images

Scientists didn't know which family red pandas belonged in for many years. Some said the endangered red panda classed was a member of the bear family. Others said they were members of the raccoon family. In realoity, the red panda is not a member of either group but belongs to its own family. Red pandas are most active in the hours between dusk and dawn. Their varying coloration helps them blend into the trees, where they spend most of their days lounging.

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White Crested Laughing Thrush

Masked animals - White-crested laughing thrush

Treehugger / Anna Norris

One of the boldest masks can be found on the white-crested laughing thrush. Named for their cackling calls, these birds are quite social. The type of eye mask they have is known as a disruptive eye mask, which helps hide its vulnerable eyes from predators. Unfortunately, this species is an invasive bird in many areas after it escapes from the pet bird trade.

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Tuxedo Cat

black and white cat with black around eyes and ears and back, tuxedo cat

Orlovic / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuxedo cats have black and white spots of many shapes and sizes. Every now and then, the felines' facial markings resemble a mask. (Talk about "cat burglars.") Tuxedo cats aren't their own breed, just a coloration pattern. And, in fact, many different breeds can produce a cat wearing a tuxedo with a mask. Keep an eye on your local animal shelter if you fancy a cat dressed to impress.

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Southern Masked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver, a bright yellow bird with black mask building a hanging orb shaped nest in Kruger National park, South Africa

Utopia_88 / Getty Images

The male southern masked weaver is boldly colored during the mating season to attract mates. Its mask almost covers its entire face, and the contrast of the mask with piercing red eyes is striking.

Not only does the male put on his most beautiful plumage, but he must also build the nest. He weaves the intricate nests from branches he strips of leaves. The weaver nest hangs from a branch and includes a ceiling. The male may build several nests before his potential mate consents to move in.

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Close up of a raccoon face.

Getty Images / Diane Shapiro

Who could forget the masked crusader of trash cans himself, the raccoon? A raccoon viewed from above blends in with the forest floor, and because of the white on its underside, a raccoon in a tree seen from below blends in with the branches and the sky above. Sure, the black coloration helps these food-bandits sneak around in the night, but it can also help the nocturnal mammals identify one another.