Camouflage - Definition, Factors and Examples

Many animals have some form of adaptations which is required for survival. These adaptations make them more successful and increase their probability of survival. Camouflage is also known as cryptic coloration. It is an example of one such adaptation. It is one of the important mechanisms used by animals. This mechanism or tactic provides defense against predators. There are several other mechanisms such as chemical, stings etc., which are used by animals for defense against predators. This mechanism ‘camouflage’ is used by many organisms for defending themselves from their predators. Camouflaged animals generally do not prefer to live together in groups because a predator that discovers one individual will get valuable clues about the presence of other camouflaged animals. Animals also provide protection to themselves against predators with warning coloration, camouflage, and different chemical defenses such as poisons and stings. Some basic information about predators and prey are as follow:

  • • Generally, plants are protected from herbivores by the chemicals they manufacture. It is an example of a chemical mechanism of defense.

  • • Some organisms have a defense mechanism that involves a warning, or aposematic, and coloration. Usually, this defense mechanism is a characteristic of an organism that is poisonous, stings, or is otherwise harmful.

  • • This type of predator-prey relationship is very crucial and quite important in order to limit population size in nature.

  • Definitions and Examples of Camouflage

    Many organisms of the animal kingdom have evolved to exhibit some form of camouflage. They use camouflage to mask or to cover their location, identity, and movement. It is an adaptation mechanism that allows tuning in with certain aspects of their surrounding environment. Camouflage increases chances of survival of an organism in a particular habitat. They hide from their predator. This mechanism increases the chances of being able to successfully reproduce and carry on the generation. However, sometimes predators also use camouflage as a tool for hunting. By using camouflage, predators are being able to mix with their background and in this way; camouflage provides them an element of surprise as well as increase their chance of successfully obtaining food. In this way, it is also useful for predators in reproduction and for the growth of the next generation. 

    There are various types of camouflage found in the animal kingdom.

  • 1. The caterpillar larvae are an excellent example of camouflage. The caterpillar larvae of common sulphur butterfly Coliaseurythemeusually exhibit a dull Kelly-green color. This characteristic of this species of butterfly provides excellent camouflage on the alfalfa plants on which they feed.

  • 2. The shell markings in the land snail Cepaeanemoralis match its background habitat that reflects the same pattern of avoiding predation by camouflage.

  • 3. Camouflage is also seen in the insect black moth. The peppered forms are more visible to predators as compare to the black moth. These peppered moths generally tend to rest on the trunks of trees during the day. Birds are their predators and they can easily find their prey, peppered moths, and eat them. However, the black form of moths has an advantage because they are camouflaged.

  • 4. Pieris rapae, the green caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly, are camouflaged on the leaves of cabbage and other plants on which they feed. The mustard oil of these plants protects those plants against most herbivores. However, the caterpillars of butterfly are able to break down the mustard oil components.

  • 5. Viceroy caterpillars are also camouflaged on leaves. They generally resemble the bird droppings.

  • 6. African weaver birds tend to construct nests from vegetation. It provides an excellent example to illustrate the relationship between ecology and social organization. One set of species of African weaver birds live in the forest and build camouflaged and solitary nests. These camouflaged nests do not call the attention of predators to their brood.

  • 7. Hair is also utilized for the camouflage. All mammals have hair. Apart from managing heat loss, another function of hair is camouflage. The color and pattern of a mammal’s coat have similarity with its background, they generally match its background.

  • 8. Several mice have brown hair. This little brown mouse is practically invisible against the brown leaf litter of a forest floor.

  • 9. Stone flounder, a flatfish, also use camouflage. It lies on the ocean floors as it searches for prey. It is advantageous for this flatfish to get tuned with gravel of sand found at the bottom of the sea to avoid predators. This camouflage is highly efficient such that they are capable of hiding from prey that may move close enough for them to catch.

  • Factors affecting camouflage

    Camouflage shown by organisms depends on several factors. Generally, their physical and behavioral characteristics are very important. The camouflage tactic shown by animals having fur is a way different than that shown by animals having feathers or scales. This is important because feathers and scales can be shed and changed quickly and regularly, while on the other hand, fur can take weeks or even months to grow in. Generally, it is seen that the animals with fur are more often camouflaged by season. An example of this is the arctic fox in which arctic fox has a white coat in the winter season while it has a brown coat in summer. 

    Just like physical characteristics, behavioral characteristics are also important in utilizing camouflage tactic. The animals that are living in groups differ from those who are living in solitary, for example, zebra. The stripes on a zebra make it stand out. Zebras are social animals and they live and migrate in large groups known as herds. When zebras are clustered together, it is nearly impossible for predators to tell one zebra from another, making it quite difficult for predators such as lions to have an eye on an individual animal.

    In several cases, a species’ camouflage is also impacted by the behavior or characteristics of predators. If a predator is unable to observe or blind, for example, then there is no need for prey to match their color with their surroundings. In that case, showing camouflage by background matching is meaningless. Example of color-blind predator is a lion, and hence, the zebras’ black and white camouflage does not need to blend with their habitat. Hence, the behavior of both the predator and the prey is important and plays a major role in camouflage.

    Camouflage Tactics

    Different environmental and behavioral factors cause species to have a wide variety of camouflage tactics. Mimicry is one of the important techniques. Background matching and disruptive coloration are part of mimicry technique of camouflage. Mimicry can be defined as one organism looks or acts like an object or another organism. 

  • 1. Background Matching

  • Background matching is perhaps the most common mechanism of camouflage. In this method, the species hide by resembling its surroundings in coloration, form, or movement, for example, deer and squirrels. Animals like deer and squirrel resemble the ‘earth tones’ of their surroundings. Flounder type of fish almost exactly matches their speckled seafloor habitats.

    Apart from this simple mechanism, background matching also includes complex forms such as a walking stick and a walking leaf. These two insects look and act like their namesakes. They are found in Southeast Asia. There is a pattern on the edge of the walking leaf’s body that resembles with the bite marks left by caterpillars in leaves.

  • 2. Disruptive Coloration

  • It is another camouflage tactic. The identification and location of a species may cover up through a coloration pattern in disruptive coloration. This form of a visual tactic of camouflage causes predators to misidentify what they are observing. An example of this is the butterfly. Many butterflies have large and circular patterns on the upper part of their wings. These patterns are called eyespots. These eyespots resemble with the eyes of animals that are much larger than the butterfly, such as an eye of the owl. Hence, these eyespots are capable of confusing predators such as birds and keep them away from the vulnerable part of the butterfly’s body.

    Several tactics use coloration tactics that highlight themselves rather than hiding their identity. This type of camouflage tactic is known as warning coloration or aposematism. This tactic is particularly important in showing organisms’ toxic and dangerous characteristic. This tactic makes predators aware of this organism. Examples of animals that involve this tactic are larva and adult stages of the monarch butterfly. This caterpillar has a bright stripe with orange, black, and white color, and similarly, monarch butterfly has a pattern of orange, black, and white color. Now, monarch butterfly generally eats milkweed that is poisonous to many birds, but it is not highly toxic. Hence, the monarch butterfly retains that poison in their bodies. The bird will vomit for sure if they eat the monarch butterfly as the milkweed toxin is not deadly. Countershading is also a form of camouflage in which the top of an animal’s body is darker in color, while its underside is lighter. Shark use this tactic for defense.