Camouflage and the Vision of Birds

How good is your eye? Take our camouflage challenge and test your knowledge.

November 25, 2015 | | Notes from the Wild

An abiding preoccupation of wild animals, not surprisingly, is to avoid being eaten. The ways they accomplish this are wonderfully diverse. Some are fleet of foot, some are laced with poison, others are protected by hard body coverings – the natural equivalent of Kevlar body armour.

Many creatures though, avoid becoming menu items by hiding in plain sight. This camouflage strategy is particularly refined in insects. Many insects meld into their backgrounds, looking for all the world like sticks, leaves and bark.

Their mastery of disguise is often astonishingly intricate and we can deduce that the predators that hunt them, such as birds, must have remarkable vision – for it is this vision that has driven insects to develop ever more exquisite camouflage.

But if the keen eyesight of birds drives insect camouflage, surely the reverse is also true – that insect camouflage advances the acuity of bird eyesight – a remarkable interplay that has been under way since birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs.

We can also deduce from camouflaged insects that birds have colour vision – we don’t need to examine the architecture of their eyes to determine this. The fact that most edible insects are brown or green to blend with their surroundings tells us so.

Another confirmation that birds see in colour comes from insects that employ a tact that is diametrically opposed to camouflage – those that shout out their presence with brilliant colours – ladybugs and monarch butterflies are a good examples.

What gives here? These are insects are poisonous. They conduct their affairs openly, “knowing” that birds associate red and orange with unpleasant taste.

Take a look below to find examples of camouflaged creatures from our local environment. Finding them in the images shouldn’t be too difficult, but imagine the challenge of hunting these animals in natural settings. For birds, the ability to do so could mean the difference between eating and going hungry.

Camouflage Challenge

If you think you can identify all five creatures (all but one are insects) submit your answers. One correct respondent will win a $50 gift certificate from Booklore in Orangeville. Click any image to see a larger picture of the creature.

1 Camouflage Two Camouflage Three Camouflage Four Camouflage Five
Camouflage Three

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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