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7 surprising species that are masters of deception

It's not just chameleons. The animal kingdom is full of optical tricksters.

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This cunning bug is a master of disguise.

It’s tough to tell where the leaf insect ends and the actual leaves start in this image.

Animals of all shapes and sizes use deception to survive.

But their tactics change depending on what tools they have.

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Some are great at blending in with patterns, while others use their features to create optical illusions.

Either way, it’s clever trickery.

Karen Osborn, Smithsonian

Here are 7 animals that use camouflage in unexpected ways:

7. Pandas

Most masters of camouflage use green and brown earth tones to blend in, but pandas sport black and white coats.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

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For an October 28 study in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed images of pandas in their natural habitat, finding that they were surprisingly good at hiding in plain sight.

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Their black spots blend in with dark patches on trees, while the white patches can camouflage with foliage, or even snow.

6. Anteaters

Mama anteaters use their fur patterns to keep their babies safe.

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When baby anteaters are born, they can’t walk.

To get around, they climb on their mother’s back, and she transports them like a living taxi.

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The mother has a dark stripe on her back that lines up with the baby’s fur — making it difficult for predators to spot the youngster.

5. Dragonfish

This deep-sea creature plays a vision trick on its prey.

David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Dragonfish have sharp, transparent teeth — making it tough for other deep-sea creatures to tell when they’re going in for a bite.

Combined with dark skin, the predator is nearly invisible when it hunts.

David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

A 2019 study in the journal Matter found that the dragonfish’s teeth have an unusual crystalline structure, which could one day help humans make transparent materials like ceramics.

4. Crane Flies

Crane flies have slimy larvae that are nearly indistinguishable from their surroundings.

Yume Imada, Ehime University

Some crane fly larvae thrive in mossy environments, while others prefer streams or lakes.

The insects are covered in fleshy lobes, making them appear like caterpillars to trick predators.

A report from 2020 found that the shape and size of the lobes correlate with the insects’ environment.

Crane flies have adapted to trick in not one, but several habitats.

3. Cuttlefish

These cephalopods wield the ability to change their appearance as they please.

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Like chameleons, cuttlefish can literally alter the color of their skin to blend in with their changing surroundings.

That remarkable talent can be attributed to their sharp brains (they are related to the octopus, after all). Images

Researchers in 2018 observed the cuttlefishes’ changing skin as it reacted to different stimuli.

They reported that the color of their skin cells morphs by neurons firing directly from their brains.

2. Fangtooth

These fish live a lot like dragonfish, finding a home in the dark, murky depths of the ocean.

Karen Osborn, Smithsonian

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And like the dragonfish, fangtooths also have super dark skin that blends against the ocean’s endlessly dark backdrop.

Karen Osborn, Smithsonian

A 2020 report in Current Biology found that pigment cells in several species of fangtooths and dragonfish reflect back as little as 0.5% of the light that hits their skin.

1. Butterflies

Some species like the Blue Morpho use a camouflage tactic that’s more about visual trickery than blending in.

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Blue morphos are a dull brown on the underside of their wings, and a dazzling blue on the top.

They not only startle predators when they flap their wings, but also seem to appear and disappear as they fly.

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And there’s actually another interesting optical illusion at play: the top of their wings aren’t really blue.

The Morpho’s tiny, translucent wing scales are just reflecting the color of the sky.

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