10 Incredible Masters of Disguise in Nature

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The process of evolution is merciless. Creatures who adapt to their environment survive; those that don’t become extinct. In the process, some develop incredible traits that help them survive. Few evolutionary changes are as fun to look at as creatures that have developed camouflage as a defense mechanism. Here are just a few incredible examples of camouflage in the animal kingdom.

 

10. Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko

The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko has a frightening appearance.

Photo credit: Antony Stanley

This creature with the bizarre name is endemic to Madagascar, the island where life has evolved unlike anywhere else on Earth. Although they never grow to more than 6 inches in length and are harmless to humans, some Madagascar natives are scared of these tiny reptiles, attributing devilish qualities to them (and some members of the species have red eyes, adding to the horned effect.)

 

9. Timber Rattlesnake

The timber rattlesnake lives in rugged terrain in the eastern U.S.

Photo credit: United States Geological Survey

Even the timber rattlesnake’s scientific name, Crotalus horridus, sounds scary. The snake lives in forests and rugged terrain in the Eastern U.S. Despite its venomous bite, the timber rattler is rarely fatal to humans, mainly because the snake is eager to avoid confrontation; most humans happily oblige after the snake rattles its tail. Ironically, the snake that values its privacy became one of the most visible symbols of the American Revolution, featured on the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of that period.

 

8. Pygmy Seahorse

The pygmy seahorse is so cryptic it wasn't discovered until 1970.

Photo credit: Caparbio

This tiny creature (average size: 2 cm tall) is so well camouflaged, it remained undiscovered until 1970, and six of the seven known species have been named since 2000. They live in coral reefs in the Coral Triangle region of Southeast Asia.

 

7. Dead Leaf Butterfly

The dead leaf butterfly boasts a brilliant disguise.

Photo credit: J.M. Garg

There is no more obvious name for an insect or animal on this list. This insect is indigenous to tropical Asia.

 

6. Stonefish

Stonefish blend in so well with their seafloor surroundings that they are often accidentally touched.

Photo credit: J.M. Garg

This aptly named fish is one of three creatures on this list that poses a threat to humans. But the stonefish catches many scuba divers and surf waders by surprise. Found mainly in the shallow waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the fish features dorsal fin spines that can inject a powerful toxin into anyone unlucky enough to touch them. Although rarely fatal in this era, stonefish encounters pose a serious threat to humans; those who have stepped on or touched a stonefish describe the pain as agonizing, and stings can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

 

5. Walking Stick (aka stick insect)

The walking stick has a number of defense mechanisms in addition to camouflage.

Photo credit: Mike Simpson

Walking sticks can be found around the world, mainly in warmer climates. In addition to camouflage, the walking stick boasts a veritable armory of defensive tricks. Some species have large spines on their legs, which can cause great damage to a predator. Other species can release a potent spray that temporarily blinds predators. Still others have learned to mimic more fearsome creatures, such as a scorpion, or in a worst-case scenario, play dead for long periods. Because of their unique appearance, walking sticks have become a trendy insect pet.

 

4. Crocodile

Crocodiles are fast, strong and stealthy.

Photo credit: Alex Jones

It doesn’t seem fair that a creature blessed with such speed and strength should also have the ability to hide from its prey. Exact statistics are not available, but crocodile attacks kill hundreds of people each year, mostly in Africa, where the Nile crocodile lives in close proximity to humans. The croc’s stealth is so incredible most victims are unaware they are in danger until they are attacked.

 

3. Owl Butterfly

The wings of the owl butterfly scare off many would-be predators.

Photo credit: Steve Corey

You don’t need to be an evolutionary biologist to appreciate that the “eyespots” on the wings of these butterflies give it a predatory appearance, scaring off birds, snakes, lizards and other predators. The butterflies are indigenous to the forests of Mexico and Central and South America, but are commonly found in “butterfly rooms” in nature preserves and museums around the world.

 

2. Leafy Sea Dragon

The leafy seadragon is very slow, but blessed with incredible camouflage to avoid predators.

Photo credit: Dayna

This relative of the seahorse blends in perfectly with the seaweed in its environment off the coast of south and east Australia. Without the camouflage, the leafy sea dragon wouldn’t last long, as it is a very slow swimmer. But as with several other creatures on this list, the leafy sea dragon’s bizarre appearance has made it a novelty pet, threatening its survival.

 

1. Chameleon

Contrary to popular belief, not all chameleons can change colors.

Photo credit: Habib M’henni

An obvious choice for this list, yes. But contrary to popular belief, many of the 160-some chameleon species cannot change color to match their environment. Most, however, do have an appearance well suited to their surroundings. And the color change is not always a camouflage technique; some chameleons change colors to attract mates, or scare off rival chameleons.

 

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