National Geographic

Camouflaged Creatures: Blending In To Stay Alive

"The rain forest is really messy," says photographer Christian Ziegler. Armed with a camera and a headlamp, he would plunge into the wilds of Panama at night, foraging for what look like sticks and leaves. But when the sticks started crawling and the leaves walked up branches or hopped about the forest floor, Ziegler knew to raise his camera.

  • Can you distinguish the leaf-litter toads from the leaves on this Panamanian forest floor?
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    Can you distinguish the leaf-litter toads from the leaves on this Panamanian forest floor?
    All photos by Christian Ziegler/National Geographic
  • This evolutionary adaptation helps the toads hide from predators.
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    This evolutionary adaptation helps the toads hide from predators.
  • A saw-nosed plant hopper blends in with the wood. Wonder how it got its name?
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    A saw-nosed plant hopper blends in with the wood. Wonder how it got its name?
  • The camouflage is the plant hopper's first defense. But this little insect can also foil predators by revealing large red spots beneath its wings, which appear like the eyes of a much larger creature.
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    The camouflage is the plant hopper's first defense. But this little insect can also foil predators by revealing large red spots beneath its wings, which appear like the eyes of a much larger creature.
  • A katydid no longer than your finger is hiding in this picture.
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    A katydid no longer than your finger is hiding in this picture.
  • At night katydids come alive, but during the day, they remain stationary for hours to avoid giving themselves away.
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    At night katydids come alive, but during the day, they remain stationary for hours to avoid giving themselves away.
  • These Mimetica katydids have brown spots and notched edges to blend in with surrounding leaves.
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    These Mimetica katydids have brown spots and notched edges to blend in with surrounding leaves.
  • Despite their incredible camouflage, these katydids are coveted fodder for monkeys, birds, lizards, frogs and snakes.
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    Despite their incredible camouflage, these katydids are coveted fodder for monkeys, birds, lizards, frogs and snakes.
  • A female walking leaf of Malaysia is one of many existing leaf mimics. Do you see it?
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    A female walking leaf of Malaysia is one of many existing leaf mimics. Do you see it?
  • A recently discovered fossil shows that the walking leaf species has changed very little over the past 47 million years.
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    A recently discovered fossil shows that the walking leaf species has changed very little over the past 47 million years.
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No, it's not magic, it's mimicry. Ziegler, first a tropical ecologist, then a photographer, was working on a story for the August issue of National Geographic magazine. "The Art of Deception" is a tale of evolutionary marvels: insects and creatures so well adapted to blend in with their surroundings that they practically disappear during the day.

National Geographic provided The Picture Show with desaturated images to show these creatures in relief. Click through the gallery to see them emerge from hiding. Learn more about mimicry behavior from the photographer in this National Geographic interactive.

Ziegler is an associate for communication at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. View more of his photos on his Web site.

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