4 September 2020
Now you see me… Now you don’t!
Hi everyone! Welcome back to my blog.
When you are out on a safari, it can be exceedingly difficult to spot certain animals as they are particularly good at hiding. They have adapted over the years to have specialised colouring and camouflage to help them hide from threats and predators.
There are three specific things you can look out for whilst out on safari that will help you find animals: Shape, Colour and Movement.
You need to look for any “odd” or “out-of-place” shape in the bush and on the open plains – the rounded shape of a Nyalas rump amongst a cluster of sharp edged leaves; the pointed horns of a male Impala that breaks the smooth outline of the horizon – there are so many shapes that may not belong in certain settings, and these shapes could be hiding animals.
BUT, what do you do when an animal has adapted in such a way that looking for a shape is just not an option? This is when you look out for an “odd” colour. Many animals will almost match the colour of the environment in which they are hiding, making it exceptionally difficult to notice a colour change, but it is there, and if you pay enough attention it will become relatively easy to notice and point out.
However, even when you think you have mastered the art of spotting hidden animals, there will still be some that are just impossible to see. This is where movement comes into play. Some animals are able to sit and hide, completely dead-still for what seems like forever and just when you feel like giving up – thinking your guide is perhaps slightly insane, pointing something out that’s clearly not there – you notice the flick of an ear! That tiny, quick movement just gave away the animal’s position and you are left dumbfounded as to how well it can hide.
This often happens with Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula). These beautiful antelope never cease to impress me with their hiding abilities. Not only do they blend in with the colour of the grass around them, they are masters of sitting dead-still, flattening their ears to lower the risk of you spotting them until eventually they twitch from an irritating fly or the tickle of a grass blade.
Flattening ears Laying Dead-still
Various forms of camouflage and mimicry have evolved, with each adaptation specifically suited to the needs of the individual animal species.
Over the years, most animals have taken on the colour of the environment in which they live, usually the colour of the soil or vegetation of the area. This form of camouflage is referred to as Concealing colouration.
Lions have all but mastered this form of camouflage making it incredibly difficult for prey animals to spot them, especially as most prey animals see only in shades of grey. To demonstrate how well camouflaged lions are to prey animals I have taken a couple of my lion photographs and converted them to black and white – this will give you an idea of what a prey animal sees when they look at a lion.
I have also posted the colour versions of these photographs for a comparison to the black and white (through a prey’s eyes) and also to show how well lions blend into the environment even in full colour however, they have different reasons for needing this ability.
Lions see in colour, their eyesight is in fact incredible, and although they don’t see in as much colour as we as humans do – seeing mostly in blues and greens – their night-vision is impeccable. This is where their camouflage becomes essentially effective in that it allows them to stay hidden from rival predators.
Like concealing colouration, Countershading is also quite common in the animal kingdom. Impala may be one of the best examples of this form of camouflage. This is where the back of the animal is darker than the belly of the animal. Impala have a reddish-brown back, lighter brown sides and a white belly. From a terrestrial predator’s point of view the countershading takes away the three-dimensional view of the animal, making it appear two-dimensional and therefore more difficult to spot and attack.
This type of camouflage is useful especially for animals residing in trees or in the ocean, blending into the light environment when viewed from below and blending into the dark environment when viewed from above.
One of the most interesting forms of camouflage to me is Disruptive Colouration. This is where animals have made use of spots, stripes, and various other patterns to break the shape of their body outline in such a way that they look like they are part of the background environment rendering them virtually invisible.
Zebra may look as if they have completely lost the plot when it comes to staying hidden in the African bush, however, their use of disruptive colouration works exceedingly well in their favour. Predators rely on picking out one individual to hunt, and when a herd of zebra are standing together, or running away together as a unit, it’s almost impossible for the predator to single out one specific zebra to attack, so they need to break up the herd to single out their prey.
Animals like Kudu, Nyala and Bushbuck make use of their disruptive colouration to hide more effectively in their environment, making use of stripes and spots to simulate the effect of the dappled shade.
Bushbuck You can’t see me! Nyala Bull Nyala Ewe
Some animals make use of Disguise as a highly effective form of camouflage. This is most seen in various insect species where they will disguise themselves to look almost exactly like a leaf, or a piece of bark for example. This makes it nearly impossible to spot them unless they move.
Butterfly disguised as bark Butterfly disguised as a leaf
This form of camouflage is similar to Mimicry however, mimicry is when a harmless animal will look like a highly dangerous or venomous animal to avoid being preyed upon. A well-known example of this is where a Common Diadem butterfly looks almost exactly like the poisonous African Monarch butterfly to avoid being eaten by predators.
Nature never ceases to amaze me.
I will always be amazed at how animals adapt for survival, how over the years they evolve in order to hide more effectively or to hunt more efficiently. Nature never stops, it continually changes and improves. Survival of the fittest.
Thank you everyone for reading another one of my blogs! Please feel free to ask any questions you may have and please feel free to give requests for future blogs.
Remember to stay safe.