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Camouflage

Prey are animals that are eaten by other animals (and sometimes by plants!). Predators are the animals that eat prey. Animals that are prey often have special adaptations to avoid being eaten. One of these adaptations is camouflage.


Each leopard has a unique pattern of spots on its muzzle, face and throat. These patterns act as camouflage, hiding the cat from its prey. 

The shape, color, and movements of animals help them to survive. The coats (hair) of prey are generally colored with a pattern that blends in with their surroundings, helping the animal hide from predators. This type of coloring is called camouflage. Many predators are camouflaged as well to hide them while they are hunting their prey. For example, leopards are colored to match their environment. Those that live in open habitats, such as the savanna, are cream in color, with a pattern of black spots. This coloration helps them blend with the mottled browns of the dry grassland. However, the color varies geographically. Those that inhabit dense forest, such as tropical rain forests, have a dark overall color to blend in with the dark shadows of the understory.

Praying mantids are predatory insects that are camouflaged to resemble leaves, branches or, as shown above, flowers. When suitable insect prey get too close, the mantid will grab the prey by its powerful forlegs and eat it alive. 

Many of the antelope that live in the deciduous forest and scrub are camouflaged. When alarmed, they freeze to blend in with their surroundings. In contrast, the antelope of the savanna flee when disturbed. Many, such as the Thomson's gazelle or impala, have a flash mark - a highly visible flag of black and white on their tails and hindquarters. When the animal is viewed from the side, its light brown color camouflages it among the dry grass of the savanna. When disturbed, one member of the herd flees and others follow behind. The flashing colors on the tail indicate the way to follow and help to keep the herd together.

The bold black and white pattern of a zebra is called disruptive coloring. The stripes break up the outline of each animal, but do not conceal it, instead blending it into the herd to confuse predators. It is difficult to see where each animal begins and where it ends, particularly when the zebras are running.

Leopard's head sketch by Rick Roe , Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Foundation. 

Photograph of mantid by F. G. H. Allen as printed in "Africa: A Natural History" by Leslie Brown, Random House, 1965.

 

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