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Camouflage is a method of crypsis (hiding). It allows an otherwise visible organism or object to remain unnoticed, by blending with its environment. Examples include a tiger's stripes, the battledress of a modern soldier and a butterfly camouflaging itself as a leaf. The theory of camouflage covers the various strategies which are used to achieve this effect.


In nature

Cryptic coloration is the most common form of camouflage, found to some extent in the majority of species. The simplest way is for an animal to be of a color similar to its surroundings. Examples include the "earth tones" of deer, squirrels, or moles (to match trees or dirt), or the combination of blue skin and white underbelly of sharks via countershading (which makes them difficult to detect from both above and below). More complex patterns can be seen in animals such as flounder, moths, and frogs, among many others.

The type of camouflage a species will develop depends on several factors:

  • The environment in which it lives. This is usually the most important factor.
  • The physiology and behavior of an animal. Animals with fur need camouflage different from those with feathers or scales. Likewise, animals who live in groups use different camouflage techniques than those that are solitary.
  • If the animal is preyed upon then the behavior or characteristics of its predator can influence how the camouflage develops. If the predator has achromatic vision, for example, then the animal will not need to match the color of its surroundings.

Animals produce colors in two ways:

  • Biochromes: natural microscopic pigments that absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, creating a visible color that is targeted towards its primary predator.
  • Microscopic physical structures, which act like prisms to reflect and scatter light to produce a color that is different from the skin, such as the translucent fur of the Polar Bear, which actually has black skin.

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