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Camouflage Definition and Examples

Adaption is the process by which an organism makes itself comfortable with its surroundings. It is done to ensure existence and survival. The prey-predator relationship plays a significant role in this process of adaptation. When the predator is more powerful and dominating, it may overexploit its prey. As a result, it may lead to the total extinction of the prey species population. So, to ensure continuity of race on this planet, some organisms adapt to their surroundings by camouflaging or cryptic colouration.

What is camouflaging?

Camouflaging can be defined as the phenomenon of illumination or colouration that makes an organism blend with its surroundings or makes it difficult to spot. This phenomenon is generally used to befool the predator about the existence of its prey. It is a form of natural defence mechanism undertaken by organisms. During camouflaging, the prey may change its colour, produce chemicals, sounds, vibrations or perform certain unusual activities that might threaten or befool the predator.

Examples of camouflaging in nature

Example: Chameleons exhibit camouflaging. They have an upper layer of skin that contains pigments underneath. They change their colours in response to factors like temperature etc. They usually change colour to regulate their body temperature in accordance with the surroundings. This feature also protects them from predators.

Hair helps animals in providing heat and protection from the external environment. The type of body hair and colour of fur coats also help animals in camouflaging. The colour of the hair coat of an animal is similar to its surroundings and is useful in mimicking and hiding. For example, the lion has a brown coat that camouflages with its dry surroundings and hides it during its hunt. Mice also have brown hair colour, which hides them in the forest floor’s litter and dry brown leaves. The white fur coats of arctic lions and polar bears help them to hide successfully behind the snow and icebergs.

The dull Kelly-green colour of the caterpillar larvae of common sulphur butterfly Colias Eurytheme usually is an excellent example of camouflage. The characteristic colour of the butterfly larvae provides excellent camouflaging on the alfalfa plant on which they feed. The viceroy caterpillar, which resembles bird droppings, also conceal on leaves. The green caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, can easily hide on the leaves of cabbage leaves on which they feed.

The land snail Cepaeanemoralis has a particular type of shell markings that matches its background and reflects camouflaging shown by the organism.

During industrialisation, the population of white moths increased suddenly. It was due to cryptic colouration shown by them. Before industrialisation, the barks of the trees were white, so white moths could easily hide, and their population increased. At that time, black moths could be easily spotted and killed. But after the period of industrialisation, the barks of trees get covered with soot and smoke. Now white moths were quickly visible, and hence their population increased. On the other hand, black moths could not get easily spotted and increased in size.

Stone flounder is a flatfish that leaves deep down the ocean. It lies on the ocean floor as it searches for prey. It is done to get tuned with gravel or sand found at the bottom of the sea. This mechanism is essential as it enables them to hide from prey that may move close enough for them to catch.

Types of camouflaging

  • 1) Background matching: It is also known as concealing colouration. It is one of the most common techniques used by animals. In this, the animal resembles its background colour and protects itself from being recognised. For example, deer, mouse, squirrel, lion resemble their natural body colour with their habitat. Flounder type fish reach its speckled seafloor.
  • 2) Disruptive colouration: The phenomenon in which animals change their body colour with the surroundings and befools the predators. E.g. Chameleons change their natural body colour. Sometimes, it also involves misidentification of body structures and patterns. E.g. in the case of many butterflies, the circular pattern on the wings resembles the eyes of an owl and hence prevents their detection and predation. Also, aposematism is the phenomenon in which animals highlight themselves to show anger or warn the predator. E.g. Monarch butterfly
  • 3) Mimicry: It is a practice of mimicking other organisms or objects to protect them. E.g. The pattern on the edge of the walking leaf’s body resembles the bite marks left by caterpillars in leaves. Likewise, the viceroy butterfly resembles a monarch butterfly.
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