Animals with Super Camouflage That Really Exist

Here are some incredible invisible animals that surprise scientists with their camouflage!

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In the animal kingdom, every day is a great big game of survival hide and seek. But some creatures take hiding to a whole new level, by becoming mother nature’s sneakiest masters of disguise. From shade-shifting squid to concealed creepy crawlies, let's go on the hunt for some of the animal world’s greatest masters of camouflage and invisibility!

Sepioteuthis Squid

While it might seem unbelievable, it’s estimated that over 80% of the world’s oceans remain unexplored and unseen. But, even in the parts we do know about, there are plenty of crazy creatures that still evade the eyes of scientists even up close.

The creature in the footage below is a Sepioteuthus squid, a genus of pencil squid that has a very special superpower: the power to turn itself invisible. Squid are part of a group of mollusks called cephalopods and like many cephalopods, they get their camouflaging abilities from special cells hidden within their skin called chromatophores.

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Each chromatophore is surrounded by muscles that stretch and contract the cell to control the spread of the inky pigment within. When the sacs inflate, the ink inside them spreads out along the Cephalopod’s skin and can make the creature appear a completely different color, or even transparent.

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Another cephalopod with this color-shifting ability is the glass squid, which, much like the sepioteuthus squid, can transform from transparent to inked up in a matter of seconds.

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Despite their camo capabilities, it might surprise you to know that most cephalopods are actually colorblind themselves, seeing the world in black and white. So, how can they adapt their color to their surroundings?

Many scientists believe that the color mimicry process is thanks to the squid’s skin containing the same sort of light-sensitive proteins as the human eye meaning that the skin itself can sense the color composition of its surroundings and change color accordingly.

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

They say that you’re better off with the devil you know than the devil you don’t, but unfortunately for the prey of this next invisible assassin, there’s no way they’ll have a clue what’s hit them until it’s too late.

The ominously named Satanic leaf-tailed gecko is a native of the island of Madagascar that has an ingenious way of blending into its forest habitat. With a leaf-like appearance, this species of gecko has the special ability to masquerade as a leaf to hide from prey and predators alike.

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This gecko is nocturnal, and does most of its hunting in the dead of night, disguising as nothing more than an unsuspecting piece of plant life before pouncing to feast on unsuspecting insects.

As the day rolls around, the gecko transitions from the hunter to the hunted, at which point their unbelievable camouflage obscures them from any potential daytime predators including the fossa, a cat-like creature that prowls the Madagascan forests.

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The gecko’s evolved ability to remain undetected is exactly what’s allowed it to survive so successfully to date. Thanks to gradual mutations over generations and generations, those members of the species born with more leaf-like traits were given more chance of surviving long enough to reproduce and pass those traits onto their young.

This amazing process of natural selection explains how many of these bizarre camouflage abilities emerge in nature, as crazy as they may seem. Aside from the satanic leaf-tail variety, there are many other species of leaf-tailed geckos all over the world.

Many leaf-tailed geckos have flaps on the side of their bodies and jaws, which flatten against camouflaging surfaces, making the gecko’s outline almost indistinguishable. Satanic or otherwise, the leaf-tailed gecko certainly proves that when it comes to disguise, the devil is in the detail.

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Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

If you thought that camouflage is all about not being seen, this next creature goes to show that distraction can play just as big a role as being straight-up invisible. While you might be thinking that the spider and the snake in the footage below are quite the hunting double act, think again because this dynamic duo is one and the same.

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This creature will blow your mind and make your skin crawl! The spider-tailed horned viper is a venomous snake endemic to western Iran. Not only has this creature physically evolved toward deception, but it’s also adapted its instinctual behavior for the purpose.

At the end of the spider-tailed horned viper’s tail, there’s a spiny little appendage that closely resembles one of the animal kingdom’s eight-legged crawlers. While the snake’s mottled coloring helps it blend in with rocks and sand, it dangles and wiggles its tail with the intent of luring in birds that prey on spiders.

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When the victim takes the bait, the snake launches a counterattack, rapidly striking, clamping down, injecting venom, and gobbling up the aftermath. Nicknamed the spider snake, this slippery fellow is two of the world’s biggest fears brought together.

Pygmy Seahorse

About the size of a paper clip, the average pygmy seahorse measures from an inch to as small as just half an inch from snout to tail. But despite its paperclip presence, size is not this peculiar creature’s defining trait. These diminutive drifters spend their entire lives blending in around coral that looks exactly like them.

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But the question is, what came first, the pygmy or the coral? As far as overall shape and texture is concerned, it’s likely the coral came first but coloration is a much more intriguing story. At birth, pygmy seahorses are similar in color to algae, but once they reach adulthood, they slowly transition to match their surroundings specifically, the coral they call home.

At first, scientists weren’t sure if the seahorses sought out coral that matched their body color, or if the pygmies’ color changed depending on what color coral they were living amongst. In 2014, a group of marine biologists from the California Academy of Science collected a mating pair of orange pygmies from the Philippines with a very specific experiment in mind.

Back at the lab, the scientists waited for the seahorse couple to get busy and once the babies were born, the scientists took them away from the orange embrace of their parents’ habitat to see what would happen. The pygmy babies were placed in a separate tank containing only purple coral instead of the orange where they were born.

To the scientists’ wonder, the offspring of the orange seahorses slowly turned purple to match their new purple coral home, adapting their invisible horsepower to their new surroundings.

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It’s thought that the pygmies’ color-changing process happens in a similar way as it does for cephalopods with the help of chromatophores, albeit at a more gradual pace. Small but mighty hidden, these teeny pygmies are certainly impressive.

Buff Tip Moth

While a lot of camouflaged creatures rely on color and patterns as means to conceal themselves, few can match the accuracy with which the buff tip moth mimics its woodland habitat. Found in the woodlands of the UK, Europe, and Asia, the buff tip moth is not only the color of a loose twig but it’s shaped like one too.

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Like many moth species, the buff tip is a nocturnal flyer, a practice they’ve evolved to avoid their most threatening daytime predators: birds. While birds like the owl and nighthawks are famed for coming out at night, the majority of wild birds are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day and typically rest at night.

So, during those risky daylight hours, the buff tip will hold its textured wings against its body, giving it the conical and deceptive twig-like appearance that it's known for.

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Goldenrod Crab Spider

When you think of camouflage, bright, eye-catching colors aren’t usually on the menu, but in the case of our next camo creepy crawly, the brighter the better. The goldenrod spider exclusively hunts on the most vibrant of hunting grounds: on flowerheads.

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Unlike most other spiders, the goldenrod doesn’t rely on spinning webs to catch its prey, but instead, camouflage. A type of crab spider, the goldenrod spider spends its time hanging out on goldenrod flowers, in meadows across the globe. But what makes them stand out the most, are their unique hunting tactics.

These spiders fool their prey mostly bees, butterflies, and any other small insects that dare to stray onto the petals, by blending into the flower and striking before they know what hit them. And it’s not just limited to one color of flower. The goldenrod can actually change its color from white to yellow to match the color of the specific flower it’s sitting on.

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These amazing color-changing abilities, however, are not a straightforward process. There are two main cell layers playing a role in the goldenrod’s color-changing abilities. The upper layer is naturally clear, showing off the spider’s naturally white-colored insides.

But when one chooses to nest on a yellow flower, the spider will begin secreting a yellow pigment into its outer layer. The process of the spider changing from yellow to white takes around a week, while the change from white to yellow can take up to 25 days, as it takes longer to produce the yellow pigment.

Most fascinating of all, though, is a behavior that can seem counterintuitive at first glance. Sometimes, the goldenrod spider can be seen hunting on the pink petals of the pasture rose, where it boldly stands out to human eyes. But to the eyes of certain insectoid prey and predators of the spider, they’re invisible.

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This is because the eyes of their insect adversaries lack the receptors needed to see red, so the goldenrod appears the same color as the pink petals. So, in those cases, the Goldenrod’s biggest advantage is the shortcomings of its enemies, and while a win by default isn’t the most honorable victory, being able to remain alive is probably satisfying enough for these little arachnids.

Leaf Camouflage

In the animal kingdom, being soft and squidgy makes you a very easy meal for predators. But thankfully for the next invisible insect, evolution has found a nifty way to keep it safe from the hungry beasts out there.

At first glance, you might think the image below is just a regular leaf. But a closer look reveals this is the Common Baron Caterpillar, but unlike its name, there’s nothing so common about this little green guy’s skills for slipping under the radar.

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In their quest to become butterflies, caterpillars have two main goals: to eat and to avoid being eaten. For the Baron caterpillar aiming to reach the sweet life of a butterfly, mango leaves are the highlight of the menu, and they spend all their time crawling and crunching the leaves of mango plants native to Southeast Asia.

To make sure they have enough nourishment for their transformative pupal stage, caterpillars can consume as much as 27,000 times their body weight in food in just a matter of weeks. To mask themselves from predators while they binge and sleep off the inevitable food comas, the Baron caterpillar develops a lime-colored line across its spine as it grows that perfectly matches the midrib of its mango leaf lounger.

Not only that, but the Baron also sprouts its pine needle-like appendages that perfectly match the flesh and veins of the leaf and allows it to bend any which way to match the curvature of the leaf bed.

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Even when not resting on its homey mango leaf, the very hungry caterpillar could easily be mistaken for plant matter, truly looking nothing like a regular meal for any potential predators nearby.

But the baron caterpillar isn’t the only leafy green in town. In the verdant forests of South Asia and Australia, there are leaves everywhere, but if you look closely, you’ll realize that not everything is as it seems.

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It is the aptly named Giant Leaf Insect, and it’s easy to see why. Its body and legs look exactly like real leaves, meaning it can seamlessly blend in with the foliage of the forest. Their coloring ranges from all shades of green to brown and orange, mimicking leaves at different stages of growth and decay.

And it’s not only surface appearances that are being deceptive here. These amazing mimics also sway side to side to mirror the movement of a leaf blowing in the wind. With moves fresher than a summer breeze, these leaf lords dance their way into continued survival.

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Onto a similar specimen now, and if true beauty is within, then that expression was never more literal than in the case of our next invisible insect. The Dead leaf butterfly is aptly named for its ability to, masquerade as a dead leaf. At least, when its wings are closed, that is.

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Also known as the Orange Oakleaf Butterfly, the leaf in the wind certainly looks the part, mimicking a fallen leaf's color and texture with insane detail, from midrib to stem. But that’s not all. Native to Tropical Asian forestlands from India to Japan, not only can the Dead Leaf Butterfly transform from mottled brown to brilliant iridescence, but it can also change with the seasons.

In the cooler, rainy months the butterfly can darken to mirror a wet leaf but appears drier and richer in color during the warmer times of year. Even the butterfly’s inner wings can adapt to suit its camouflaging needs with the changing seasons.

In the wet season, the Dead Leaf Butterfly’s wings display blue tones with a thick yellow band, whereas the dry seasoned version sports more muted violet tones. The ability to change color in this way is down to a natural phenomenon known as seasonal pigmentation polyphenism, a biological mechanism in the genetic makeup of certain species of insect.

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The astounding, in-built evolved mechanism allows insects like the Dead Leaf Butterfly to change their appearance automatically, to provide appropriate camouflage in line with the changing seasons.

Underwater Camouflage

For most masters of camouflage in the animal kingdom, the power of invisibility is mainly used to evade the eyes of dangerous predators, but for some, the capability for camouflage is predominantly a chance to play hide and seek with their prey. Take a look at the image below:

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It looks like a humble oceanic rock or a detached hunk of coral, but it's a stonefish. Unlike most other fish, the stonefish has no scales but is instead covered with highly textured brown or grey skin which sometimes includes patches of color to conceal itself in coral reefs.

Cosplaying as an encrusted rock or lump of coral, the bottom-dwelling stonefish will hide within reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

And the stonefish doesn’t stop at camouflaging itself as a rock or a lump of coral, it can also bury itself beneath the sand and pebbles to await any unsuspecting victims swimming overhead.

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But stonefish are not only masters in the art of disguise on the offense but on the defense too. Officially dubbed the most venomous fish in the world, stonefish also pose a threat to paddling beachgoers who mistake them for a rock.

Armed with 13 dorsal spines that raise up when they feel threatened, the stonefish can inject a large amount of venom into anything unlucky enough to step on it. A sting from one of these guys’ hypodermic needle-like appendages can be astoundingly painful and in some cases, even for fully grown humans, fatal.

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Another bottom-dwelling disguiser is the nightmarish monkfish, which also lays in wait on the ocean floor for unsuspecting prey to get close enough. While these lurking monsters of disguise aren’t venomous, their large jaws come with multiple rows of razor-sharp teeth, making them another hideaway menace to keep your eyes extra peeled for the next time you take a relaxing dip in the deep blue.

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Transparent Animals

If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that camouflage is all about blending into your surroundings. But what about if your surroundings happen to consist of nothing at all? In the open ocean, you might think that there’s no place to hide, but there are some aquatic creatures out there that have come up with a solution.

One such creature is the cystisoma, an alien-looking crustacean with some pretty special superpowers. The crafty crustacean is part of a genetic group known as hyperiid amphipods which can often be found in the mesopelagic zone of the ocean, also known as the twilight zone.

Very little sunlight reaches these depths and creatures like the cystisoma have developed their transparent bodies to cast less visible silhouettes when spotted from below in the dim light.

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However, just like glass, transparent sea creatures are often very reflective if they do come into contact with light, such as glares from the bioluminescent searchlights of predators, which is, understandably not ideal.

So, taking their talent for invisibility one step further, cystisoma are cloaked with anti-reflective hairlike structures that serve to dampen reflections, by scattering and absorbing light, somewhat like antiglare coating on glasses.

As a result, they’re so effective at being invisible, that researchers who’ve caught specimens have been quoted as saying, “When you pull up a trawl bucket packed full of plankton, you see an empty spot, why is nothing there? You reach in and pull out a Cystisoma.”

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So, while Harry Potter needed a physical cloak to achieve invisibility, the cystisoma’s invisible powers are hardwired into its anatomy. But it’s not the only one. Another surprising aquatic master of the invisible arts is the eel.

Many species of freshwater eel including the European, conger, and moray eel go through a larval stage early in their life cycle, where they’re known as leptocephali, characterized by small, narrow bodies that are completely transparent.

LeptocephalusConger

Despite spending their entire adult lives in freshwater rivers, streams, and estuaries, many species of eel will return to the open ocean to spawn eggs that hatch into larvae. Beginning life at just 0.2 inches long, eel larvae drift around the sea for between seven months and three years before finding the freshwater their relatives call home, where they develop into their adult forms.

But before they reach that stage, let’s just say that in the oceanic hunger games, the odds aren’t exactly in favor of these tiny, mostly defenseless jelly worms. So it’s likely that they evolved their transparent bodies to help them evade the eyes of predators as they float through the open ocean, feeding on tiny organic particles known as marine snow.

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With seven different stages making up their lifecycle, most eels undergo an intense transformation, from leptocephalus to fully grown adult eel. In the penultimate part of the oceanic leg of their journey, the leptocephalus will regenerate into what’s known as the glass eel stage.

This is another hard-to-see iteration of life, but with a more streamlined body built for speedier swimming, perfect for catching plankton for food, and finding their way to freshwater, where they finally gain some pigmentation.

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At that point, it’s the end of the glassiest camouflage ever, and the beginning of the gross, slimy brown and greenness, and later silvery blackness, of the adult eels we’re all more familiar with. Then, eventually, back to the sea to breed and die.

Wraparound Spider

Picture this, you’re going on an adventure into the Australian bush. You pause for breath and lean against the nearest tree. Grasping one of its branches for support, suddenly you feel something furry beneath your fingers and turn to see this in the image below.

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The little disguised demon here is called dolophones conifera, aka, the wraparound spider. Indigenous to Western Australia, the wraparound spider is aptly named for its ability to flatten and wrap its body around tree limbs as a means of camouflage from predators.

While zoomed-in photos make these eight-legged creeps look like Aragog brought to life, they’re actually teeny tiny, especially compared to some spiders living down under. They grow no larger than 0.3 inches in length, so hiding in plain sight among their larger, more fierce relatives is necessary for survival.

The spider’s abdomen is shaped like an inverted disc, allowing it to completely flatten itself against its perch, and it’s decorated with small circles, mimicking the imperfections along a tree’s branch.

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During the day, the wraparound spider keeps a very low profile, hanging around incognito on branches, and comes out to play under the cover of darkness, spinning networks of webs to travel between trees. While their venom is harmless to humans, the shock of seeing what you thought was merely a regular tree branch suddenly up and scurry away is an image that’s guaranteed to haunt your nightmares.

Atlas Moth

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in our next case of mimicry, it’s all about survival. It may look like a pair of hissing snakes but it’s actually the Atlas moth!

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While not invisible to the naked eye, this majestic-looking moth has the ability to obscure itself from predators with the marvelous reptilian wing patterns that make it look remarkably snake-like. Albeit a snake lacking a little in the length department.

Not only does the Atlas moth look the part, but it plays it too. Reportedly, if threatened by birds or other predators, it’ll fall to the forest floor and writhe around flapping its wings, replicating the movement of a snake’s head and neck.

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Given that this incredible creature is one of the largest insects on the planet, with a wingspan reaching up to 12 inches across, it would seem trying to hide out of sight seemingly went out the window.

But seeing as the moth species has made it this far, something is working for them. Despite this elaborate outfit, the atlas moths themselves only live for about two weeks in their adult form. If you’re going to live a short and sweet life, you may as well live it vibrantly!

If you were amazed at these animals that are the masters of camouflage, you might want to read our article about the unbelievable things animals are able to do. Thanks for reading!

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