Found in tropical Asia, the orange oak leaf or dead leaf butterfly bears an astonishing resemblance to dried leaves when its wings vertically are raised vertically to display their undersides. Luckily for researchers, the upper surface of this broadleaf forest dweller is far more colourful and easy to spot!
Also known as the flowery flounder, this bottom-feeding species—found in the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific and East Pacific Ocean—uses ‘cryptic coloration’ to avoid detection by prey and predators, changing its colour in just eight seconds. Scientists don’t quite understand exactly how this process works, but it seems to be a reaction to the scenery involving the flounder’s eyes and hormones; they then release different pigments to the surface of their skin cells to match their environment.
Many species of octopus have the incredible ability to blend almost invisibly into the ocean floor. The mimic octopus changes its skin color and texture to blend in with rocks, coral, sand and other surroundings, and has also been known to mimic poisonous animals like lion fish and sea snakes. The unspecified species pictured above is even textured similarly to the marine environments it calls home.
Malaysian Orchid Mantis
It’s easy to see at a glance how the orchid mantis manages to blend in with colourful flowers in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Their four walking legs closely resemble orchid petals, and while they’re generally pink, they can also change to brown whenever they need to take a discrete jaunt along the forest floor.
Leafy Sea Dragon
The beautiful leafy sea dragon is covered with protrusions that serve only to hide it within its underwater habitat. As it swims slowly through the water, these small fins float behind them like seaweed.
Goldenrod Crab Spider
Depending on whether it’s perched in daisies, sunflowers or the goldenrod flower, the goldenrod crab spider switches its colouration back and forth between yellow and white by secreting a liquid yellow pigment into the outer cell layer of its body. It’s the largest flower spider in North America, growing up to 10mm long excluding its legs.
Virtually disappearing on the forest floor, the stick insect has evolved one of nature’s most effective forms of camouflage. The amazing Titan subspecies is the longest stick insect in Australia, reaching up to a foot in length. Found only within southeast Queensland and New South Wales.
Common Baron Caterpillar
Native to India and Southeast Asia, the common baron butterfly bears modest brown and green colouration on its wings once it reaches full adulthood. However its most striking camouflage is seen while it’s still a caterpillar. A pale yellow-green stripe running down its back and fuzzy green legs lets the insect disappear completely when nestled within a leaf.
Mother Nature’s masters of disguise are hardly limited to chameleons—there’s an entire dazzling array of animals that boast impressive camouflage capabilities. Some release pigments into the outer layer of their skin via a process so complex, scientists don’t yet fully understand it, while others have evolved to look just like their chosen homes in flowers or at the bottom of the seabed. Here are eight examples of creatures so adept at disappearing, you’d probably miss them even if they were sitting right under your very nose.