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NOW YOU SEE IT; NOW YOU DON'T

Do you think that during the American Revolution the American soldiers had any trouble spotting the British soldiers who wore bright red jackets and white pants?

For this project, we will do some reading to learn about camouflage and advertising among animals. We all know about soldiers wearing clothes of green, brown, beige, and sometimes, blue splotches. It looks kind of strange to see a person wearing those clothes on the street. If they are
walking through a jungle, though, and their faces are smeared with black, the soldiers are difficult for others to see. Sometimes airplanes used at war are painted gray-blue on the underside, so that they are harder to see from the ground. Battleships are painted blue-gray so that their color blends with the color of the sea. Where did our military people get that idea?

Quail are brown with speckles on their upper body and outsides of their wings. They sit very still in the brown grass, and it is very difficult to see them. When they take flight, the undersides of their wings reveal a creamy white color. (Some species of quail have different colors than others, yet all are well-camouflaged.) When the males are looking for mates, they flash their colors and do a little dance, so the females can see how handsome they are, and see that they want to breed.

Do you suppose that in a later war some smart person was able to compare British soldiers to quail and decide that soldiers need camouflage?

There are fish that live in small cave-like openings in rocks at the floor of the ocean. The fish are basically gray with black speckles, and are lumpy-looking. That way a bigger fish that might want to kill it may swim right past because it is "invisible" to the predator because of the camouflage. When this fish wants to find a mate, however, his body chemistry changes a bit and he develops turquoise-colored stripes around his mouth and eyes. He extends his fins and waves them around to attract the attention of a female, and then she can see his stripes, and knows that he wants to breed.

There is a rather plain-looking frog who usually just sits around the pond, blending nicely with the algae and plants because he is green. The insects aren't afraid of him because they can't see him. Zot! he shoots out his sticky tongue and nabs a fly! Then he sits quietly, waiting for the next victim. When spring comes and he is looking for a mate, he swallows some extra air and inflates a bright red sac under his chin, and croaks loudly. This "balloon" vibrates when he croaks, and the lady frogs of his kind probably think it is quite pretty. You can be certain, though, that if there were a crocodile close by, he would keep his red balloon all folded up under his camouflaged chin!

There are lizards that are dull in color, to blend with the sand and rocks where they live. However, when they are frightened by a predator, they suddenly have many colors
appear on the surface of their skin. These small lizards are very fast; they get scared, turn on their colors, and Fttt! they're gone! The predator, having seen his colors, no longer sees the lizard. However, the predator continues looking for the brightly-colored prey it thinks it missed! This same lizard has colors for attracting a mate, but the colors are different from when he was frightened. Perhaps he wants his prospective mate to know only that he is brave!

Some species of birds determine territories by the colors of their markings. The English Robin's orange-red breast sets his species apart from other species of robin, so they don't try to infringe on their territory.

Male Yellow-striped Flickers have a black stripe by their beaks, each of them a little different from the others, so that their mates can identify them.

On display at the reptile show in our local college museum, they had a fire-bellied toad in a terrarium with a lid made of heavy screen. The sign beside it cautioned that their
skin excretes a poisonous substance, and it is not safe even to touch this animal. If another animal were to eat it, that would be its' last meal! The toad issues a warning, however, in the form of bright red and black marbled colors on its underside.

There are several birds that have a bright mark on their beaks so that their chicks can find the "cupboard" and get some food. The herring gulls have red marks on their beaks. One kind of stork has black lines around the edges of its' beak. It looks like lips!

There is a tropical, salt-water fish that has big round spots that look like eyes, but they are on the wrong end of the fish! There are vertical black lines that go above and below his eyes, and his eyes don't look like eyes. From a little distance, the fish looks like it swimming backwards!

The Peacock Butterfly has big spots on his wings that look like eyes. Big, scary eyes! A small bird that eats butterflies would leave in a hurry, because something with eyes that big might go after the bird!

There is a chameleon (a kind of lizard) that changes color to blend with whatever he is sitting on. If he climbs up a branch, he would be brown; then when he goes to a leaf, he
turns green. Pet chameleons will turn color as they walk on your clothes!

Let's read more, and get the names of the animals described above, and learn more about camouflage and about advertising, as well.

 
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