Animal camouflage: spot the beasts

Seven years ago, famed nature photographer Art Wolfe (along with Barbara Sleeper) published a book Vanishing Actshowing pictures of animals he took around the world over the last four decades. A selection of his pictures recently appeared in the online Daily Mail, and I’ve put eight of them below. In each an animal is hiding.

Find the animal in each picture and name it (don’t forget the Latin binomial!), but each commenter gets to name only one, and when all 8 are guessed, well, you’ve still had the pleasure of sussing out the beasts. The Mail site has the identification and location.

This isn’t hard, but it does show that even a bit of crypsis goes a long way toward protecting you from predators or avoiding detection by prey.

Picture #1

Picture 1

Picture #2

Picture 3

Picture #3


Picture #4

Picture 4

Picture #5

Picture 5

Picture #6

Picture 6

Picture #7

Picture 8

Picture #8

Picture 9

Go to Wolfe’s website to see some splendid examples of his work, which includes landscapes, people, and animals.

h/t: Moto


  1. Marella
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    Amazing, it’s hard to believe that something as striking as a giraffe is really camouflaged but there he is/n’t!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      Indeed! And hard to even attempt to ID #’s 4&8 when even after finding them I can only see half of them (I think).

      • sailor1031
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure #4 is a great horned owl. Barred underparts and no orange on its face distinguish it from a long-eared owl which would have been the only other contender.

        • sailor1031
          Posted January 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

          Should have said – Bubo Virginianus – though I never saw one in Virginia.

    • quiscalus
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      yeah, for me, the giraffe stood out by not standing out, so to speak. I’ve never read or heard anyone claim that their coloration was in any way cryptic, which is proof that even relatively well known species have a lot to teach, or that my education has been crap. also, people should check out a pic of a mass of nematodes hiding not so much in plain sight over at Alex Wild’s it’s cryptic in a more crypt-keeper sort of way.

  2. Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Found them all! Thanks for posting that.

    In Picture 4, is that a Spotted Eagle Owl? (I’m afraid I had to look up the Latin binomial – as I would have had to do for all of the other pictures – so I can’t take any credit in naming that).

    Looking forward to the other commenters identifying the birds so I know what I’m looking at!

    • Benjamin
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      I think the last one is a type of nightjar (sometimes called a nighhawk).

      They’re beautiful little birds with amazing camouflage. They’re also one of the few birds to rest along the length of a branch (rather than sitting across it) which also helps them stay hidden.

      • sailor1031
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, Common nighthawk – Chordeiles Minor; barred underparts and white at base of tail feathers.

    • Benjamin
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      I forgot to mention that the first one is a ptarmigan. Its summer colouring is mottled brown, black and grey, but in winter it turns pure white.

      • sailor1031
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        I believe it’s a willow ptarmigan – Lagopus Lagopus. No eye stripe (although that’s not definitive), no comb distinguish from Rock Ptarmigan. But there’s another kind of ptarmigan whose name I don’t remember right now.

        • Grania Devine
          Posted February 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          White tailed ptarmigan

  3. Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    This is pretty good. If you want more of these, surf to Conservation Report and click on the animal camouflage category.

  4. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    No idea of the names but I spotted them all except photo 5, I can’t see whatever is there at all.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      Sorry, meant photo 4.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

        Who can see such well concealed wisdom?

    • Mike Walton
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      Look in the shadow to the right of center.

  5. lanceleuven
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    That first one’s blatently of a Snow Rock. It’s towards the top-right corner of the picture partially hidden under the snow. Although admittedly, I don’t know the Latin name.

    • reynardo
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      What absolute rubbish. Any sane person could see it was a Lesser Summer Rock (Petra Aestas (var.)) trying to imitate the Snow Rock (Petra Nivis) in its native habitat. Sheesh. Put a bit of snow on it and you’re fooled like a fooled person.

  6. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Oh, Jerry. What stunning photography!! Some were easier to spot than others.

    I will now have to get the book!! Damn. More money. But it is a must have :-). Thank you for posting these.

  7. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    #5 was the hardest for me. Most I got in a few seconds and a couple took a little longer. If I didn’t know there was something to look for I probably wouldn’t have seen many of them. The African ones I got almost instantly but that’s probably because I’ve been on those game drives and had to find them in rather poor photos before my parents got a camera with a decent lens.

    • eric
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      #6 was hardest for me. Took me a while to see the leopard. Yikes.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        Apparently you don’t have a hyperactive agency detector. I bet you’re an atheist.

  8. Dominic
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    The ptarmigan or willow grouse in the first picture is tricky. It could be Lagopus lagopus or Lagopus muta. In the British Isles Lagopus muta is pretty much Scottish in distribution. It gets its name muta from changing into winter plumage to hide in the snow. However, while our red or willow grouse is able to change in other places, in the British Isles it remains reddish brown all year. For many years it was considered a separate species, not any more though. I guess it is a female Lagopus muta.

  9. moochava
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Look left! Look right!

    Too late! The giraffe has seized you in its terrible jaws! You are dead!

  10. Dominic
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    “don’t forget the Latin binomial”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Memento binomium!?

  11. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I found it easier to spot the big ones that might damage me than the small ones I might eat…

    Not a terribly reliable conclusion though.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Conclusion: You will survive in the wild until you run out of sandwiches!

  12. Strider
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    #2 is a Pika of the genus Ochotona but difficult to give you the species since I don’t know where the pickie was taken. These are seriously cute little lagomorphs!

  13. DrBrydon
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I did better than I usual do. Only couldn’t see #4.

    It’s like the old Highlights for Childrens puzzles. I think I may have even seen Abe Lincoln in there.

  14. Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Jerry, but my computer claimed it could not find any of the pictures. Perhaps they were camouflaged too?

  15. JBlilie
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink


  16. Jim Jones
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The MOST interesting thing about these pictures is that even though humans don’t have the eye of an eagle or a cat, the sense of smell and hearing of a dog, the acoustic ability of a bat or any of many other gifts (and in fact we couldn’t use these on a static picture anyway, all we really have is an unintelligently designed eye to work with) we can still (mostly) find the animal in static pictures. It does show our one big advantage and one that has made us too successful in continuing our species, our brain.

    • Launcher
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      On the contrary: humans and other primates have excellent daytime vision compared to many other animals. Taking the beloved cat, for instance, physiological and behavioral studies suggest its photopic spatial acuity is a good bit poorer than humans; and cats lack our 3-cone color vision. The cat’s scotopic (dim light) acuity, on the other hand, is pretty good, and I believe its ability to detect peripheral (unattended) and moving objects is better than ours.

      Most bird species have excellent (and color) vision; but a lot of the animal kingdom, as you point out, leverages the other senses for survival.

  17. JBlilie
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    #4 is a great horned owl.

    We have lots of them in our neighborhood. They like to call back and forth to each other at night. Especially cool fall nights when the windows are open!

  18. Cremnomaniac
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Wow, really great photos.
    If I understand the challenge correctly then some naming should be taking place. So why is it that I appear the first to name #7?
    It is a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and I would suggest a young adult, due to what appear to be less than fully formed facial features. Although that may be a trick of the perspective.

    #4 took the longest to ID, and I also believe it to be a Great Horned Owl to which I will add the latin binomial,
    “Bubo virginianus.” The subspecies might be possible if we knew what tree it is and where. I did look for it.

  19. JBlilie
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    #1: Ptarmigan
    #2: Pika
    #3: Giraffe
    #4: Great horned owl
    #5: Green-colored parrot (no idea of the species)
    #6: Leopard
    #7: Cheetah
    #8: Some sort of nightjar

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  1. […] I love the “can you see the animal in this photo” games. Jerry Coyne has 8 photographs of well-camouflaged animals; many (including some BIG ones) are hard to spot at a glance! You will find them; these […]

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