The art of camouflage in the animal kingdom

Eat or be eaten. Fundamentally, that's what life boils down to, and animals have evolved countless ways to either avoid being eaten or to increase their chances of obtaining a meal, sometimes requiring adaptations that do both.

Central American eyelash vipers have a wide range of morphs, from bright yellow to dark green, but their coloration is only effective if the snake waits in ambush on vegetation that matches. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.

About the photographers

Joe and Mary Ann McDonald are the most prolific and active husband-wife wildlife and nature photography team in the United States today. At least half of each year is spent in the field, leading photo tours and safaris to Africa, South America, India, and other exotic locations, as well as various tours and workshops in the US.

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At their studio in central Pennysylvania they have hosted students and photographers from around the world, including Australia, UK, Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore, Canada, and Mexico.

Joe and his wife Mary Ann have won numerous times in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, and their work has appeared in every major natural history magazine. Both are editors for Nature Photographer magazine.

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To view the images as a slideshow, click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the photos below.

These small flower spiders, or crab spiders, are found throughout the world. Matching the flower’s colour the spider sits motionless until an insect arrives, whereupon it creeps in stealthily to deliver a lethal, paralyzing bite. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
These small flower spiders, or crab spiders, are found throughout the world. Matching the flower’s colour the spider sits motionless until an insect arrives, whereupon it creeps in stealthily to deliver a lethal, paralysing bite. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
While the black nose and eyes of the polar bear are clearly visible, these features are not readily distinguished when a hunting bear lies motionless over a seal breathing hole. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
While the black nose and eyes of the polar bear are clearly visible, these features are not readily distinguished when a hunting bear lies motionless over a seal breathing hole. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The plain green coloration and its habit of lying motionless allow the short-nosed vine snake of Costa Rica to avoid detection by larger predators, and from the lizards and treefrogs this snake preys upon. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The plain green coloration and its habit of lying motionless allow the short-nosed vine snake of Costa Rica to avoid detection by larger predators, and from the lizards and tree frogs this snake preys upon.© Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The pale belly of big cats like the Bengal tiger not only erases shadows but also flattens the outline to a two-dimensional shape. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The pale belly of big cats like the Bengal tiger not only erases shadows but also flattens the outline to a two-dimensional shape. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Like many marine animals, penguins have rather vivid countershading. When diving for food, their black backs blend with the darkness of the ocean depths. Seen from below, their white bellies blend with the sky. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Like many marine animals, penguins have rather vivid countershading. When diving for food, their black backs blend with the darkness of the ocean depths. Seen from below, their white bellies blend with the sky. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Central American eyelash vipers have a wide range of morphs, from bright yellow to dark green, but their coloration is only effective if the snake waits in ambush on vegetation that matches. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Central American eyelash vipers have a wide range of morphs, from bright yellow to dark green, but their coloration is only effective if the snake waits in ambush on vegetation that matches. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
These geckos all belong to the genus Uroplatus – also known as the leaf-tailed geckos – and all have flaps of skin that lay flat against tree bark, eliminating any shadow while seemingly merging with the bark itself. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
These geckos all belong to the genus Uroplatus – also known as the leaf-tailed geckos – and all have flaps of skin that lay flat against tree bark, eliminating any shadow while seemingly merging with the bark itself. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The ambush bug is a common predator that sits quietly in or near flower clusters, where it waits for pollinating insects. Ambush bugs have powerful forelegs and a sharp proboscis which they use for piercing prey. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The ambush bug is a common predator that sits quietly in or near flower clusters, where it waits for pollinating insects. Ambush bugs have powerful forelegs and a sharp proboscis which they use for piercing prey. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The shell and skin of the alligator snapping turtle of the south-central United States is frequently covered in a coat of algae, making this ambush predator nearly invisible. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
The shell and skin of the alligator snapping turtle of the south-central United States is frequently covered in a coat of algae, making this ambush predator nearly invisible. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Three-toed sloths move slowly enough that any movement on their part might go unnoticed by a predator. Their unique fur coats harbour a growth of green algae, which means they can be difficult to spot in the jungle canopies. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Three-toed sloths move slowly enough that any movement on their part might go unnoticed by a predator. Their unique fur coats harbour a growth of green algae, which means they can be difficult to spot in the jungle canopies. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Resembling another broken limb on an ancient tree, a collared scops owl sits motionless through the day, thus avoiding the unwelcome attention of songbirds. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Resembling another broken limb on an ancient tree, a collared scops owl sits motionless through the day, thus avoiding the unwelcome attention of songbirds. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Background matching is taken to the extreme in some species of shrimp where the bodies are translucent, revealing the colours and structures the shrimp rests upon. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Background matching is taken to the extreme in some species of shrimp where the bodies are translucent, revealing the colours and structures the shrimp rests upon. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Camouflaged Wildlife: How creatures hide in order to survive © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald
Camouflaged Wildlife: How creatures hide in order to survive. © Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.