Story by Varud Gupta | Art by Keya Lall
Camouflage in the natural world
Chameleons are renowned for their ability to change colours to blend in with their environment. This remarkable natural ability is due to specialised cells called chromatophores which rest beneath their outer skin layer. Inside each of these cells are pigments that are sensitive to the chemical changes that occur in their nervous system and to the release of hormones.
Scientists attribute the creatures’ camouflage ability to a survival mechanism. The striking shifts in colour allow them to blend in with their environment and foliage to both avoid detection by possible predators as well as stalk prey unnoticed. This adaptive design also serves other purposes such as communication and temperature regulation.
Apart from chameleons, cuttlefish have specialised skin cells that change colour and texture rapidly, helping them mimic the ocean floor and elude predators or prey. Leaf-tailed geckos, found in Madagascar and Australia, possess flattened bodies and skin that closely resembles tree bark. With bodies shaped like twigs, stick insects are adept at blending into their arboreal environments. The wings of certain owl butterfly species feature eye-like patterns, resembling the eyes of an owl, to deter potential predators and aid in camouflage when perched on tree barks. During the Industrial Revolution, peppered moths in England adapted to their changing environment by developing darker colouration, blending in with soot-covered trees.