It’s a Colorful World - A Rainbow of Feathers, Fins, Fur, Scales, and Shells
Step outside, and you are likely to see eye-catching splashes of color in the sky, on the ground, and underwater. In other instances, you may walk right past a critter hiding in plain sight. To increase their odds of survival, the animal kingdom is filled with creatures cloaked in every hue of the rainbow.
Every creature's coloration is a means of thriving in their wild surroundings. Coloration is used as a form of camouflage, as a warning signal, and for attracting a mate. Let’s explore how the rainbow menagerie of earth's animals thrive in their unique environments.
Green is the color most often associated with nature, so it is no surprise that there are plenty of critters sporting this verdant hue. As a primary line of defense or as an ambush tool, animals both large and small use green camouflage to their best advantage.
Many reptiles and amphibians utilize camouflage for both protection and ambush hunting. Some lizards, like green anoles or iguanas, sport the color green to blend into the vegetation around them. From rainforests to ponds, bullfrogs to tree frogs, springy frogs are also often green. Even our animal friends with hard shells take advantage of the added benefit of camouflage. Some green-hued turtles include the red-eared slider and green sea turtle. From Emerald Boas high up in the tree canopy to the rough green snake slithering through the grass, many serpents come in shades of green to hide and ambush their prey.
Another verdant serpentine animal is the hefty green moray eel. These nocturnal hunters are actually a dull brown or grey, but they have a protective yellow mucus covering that cast a green hue! The mucus helps protect them from illness and parasites.
Even tiny creatures like insects have representation among green animals. With their verdant bodies that disappear among leaves and grass, grasshoppers , katydids, and praying mantis are perfect examples. Many butterflies are dazzling hues of green. Some have shimmering metallic wings. The Emerald Swallowtail is a stunning example of a green butterfly.
Watch your step and be on the lookout, you'll need to have keen vision to discover all of the green animals hiding in plain sight among the grass, trees, and vegetation.
The bright showiness of the color yellow would not seem to lend itself to concealment, and it’s true that many animals use yellow as a poison “caution sign” or to attract a mate, but there are a few creatures that rely on their yellow coloring as camouflage.
Crab spiders, or flower spiders, can slowly alter their color to match flowers, often yellow goldenrod, that they perch on for hunting. Baby ducklings and geese are often cloaked in yellowish fluff as a means of concealment among dried grasses. Lions and other large cats have golden fur to blend into the savannah to stalk the next meal. Diving down into the ocean, the weedy seadragon is found in the waters of southern Australia and Tasmania. Its bright yellow coloration and vegetative-shaped protrusions help it blend in with aquatic plants and coral.
From the bustling streets of cities to creatures in the natural world, the color yellow draws attention and often serves as a caution sign for danger. Many insects such as bees, butterflies, and monarch caterpillars are yellow as a warning to predators to stay away. Slow and awkward mobility seemingly make the pufferfish easy prey, but don’t be fooled! Most pufferfish are toxic. If bright coloration doesn’t warn off predators, this fish will fill Its elastic stomach with water and puff up like a balloon. Many amphibians, like the yellow-banded poison dart frog or the yellow-spotted salamander, also use yellow to signal toxicity.
While some animals use yellow as a caution sign, others flaunt their lemon coloration as a way to attract a mate. The flashy feathers of yellow birds, like the canary, parakeet, or goldfinch, advertise good health and beckon mates their way. Many species of butterflies attract mates through their gorgeous sunshiny hues as well.
No need to feel blue for animals donning this sky-colored hue! From a sign of toxicity to attracting mates, the color blue serves a vital role in the survival of many species.
There are many species, especially of birds, that have blue adornments to attract to mates. The snub nosed monkey has a striking blue face that demonstrates good health, making it attractive to potential mates. Blue Macaws add a cerulean splash to the rainforest canopy with their colorful feathers. The iconic male Peacock has a head and neck cloaked in resplendent iridescent royal blue feathers. This ornamental bird uses its shimmering plumage to attract a mate. The blue jay is a common bird in the eastern United States. Fun facts, the blue seen in their feathers is due to light interference, not pigmentation, and occurs in both males and females. The blue color illusion is true for indigo buntings and bluebirds as well.
There are several blue animals that call the ocean home. The blue tang along with the parrotfish and blue peacock cichlid represent just a few examples of aqua-hued creatures. A couple of other interesting sea creatures that sport the color blue are the venomous blue-ringed octopus, which is tan but displays iridescent blue rings when upset or threatened, and Portuguese man o’ war.
From lush jungles to bustling coral reefs, the bold color orange is a defining feature of many animals.
The stunning black and orange of a monarch butterfly serves as a poison warning label; other butterflies mimic this coloration to fool predators into thinking they too are poisonous. Clown Anemonefish use their coloration to blend in with their symbiotic pals - anemones.
Flashy tigers are instantly recognizable with their sleek orange and black striped bodies. The prey animals that they hunt are not able to see a full range of color. As stealthy predators, that hunt at dusk and dawn, the dim light and their striped coats help them blend in among grasses and trees.
Fiery red is a striking color when spotted against most natural backdrops. Creatures that sport a scarlet hue are truly dazzling wonders of nature.
Many toxic reptiles and amphibians are cloaked in red as a danger warning to predators. A variety of poison dart frogs are red to signal their toxicity. Coral snakes red, black, and yellow stripes serve as a glaring warning to stay away! They are among some of the most venomous creatures on the planet. To keep predators at bay, the mimicking scarlet kingsnake also has a red, yellow, and black tri-colored pattern that copies the coloring of the coral snake. There is a saying to help differentiate between the two snakes, "red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack". Mimicry in nature occurs when benign creatures take on the coloration or signaling of a similar toxic creature to fool predators.
There are many flamboyant insects as well. From butterflies to beetles, many tiny beast are also cloaked in red. One of the most popular tiny but mighty red critters is the lovely ladybug! The crimson shell of this delightful insect lets predators know that it will leave behind a nasty taste if eaten.
In addition to being a warning signal, russet red is surprisingly a helpful fur color for camouflage. The Red Fox is a red animal that uses its ruddy fur to hide from predators and hunt for food. Their fur changes from a lighter red in summer to a darker shade in the winter. The Red Panda is also a russet color to help it blend into the canopy of fir trees in its natural habitat.
Scarlet Tanagers are only brightly colored during the summer to blend into vegetation. Another famous red bird is the flamboyantly colored Cardinal. The males have showy crimson feathers to advertise good health to attract their future mate.
Masters of Disguise
Some animals are truly masters of coloration and hiding in plain sight! The chameleon is probably the most popular creature in this camo category, it can adjust the color of its skin to match its surroundings. They do this by expanding and contracting their skin cells to expose different pigments. Octopuses and Cuttlefish have quite impressive camouflaging skills. They are both able to subtly change coloration to not only mimic solid colors, but also patterns of the vegetation, coral, and rock that surround them. Another amazing masquerading expert is the flounder. It too is able to impressively match the color of its background and even the textured of its resting spot. It can convincingly mimic the look of its environment, such as disguising itself as mud or gravel.
Striking rainbow hues are found on creatures across the globe. Whether for camouflage, warning signals, or a means to find true love, the color of an animal is a vital adaptation that helps creatures survive in their wild homes. So next time you’re out on an adventure, be on the lookout for masquerading creatures!