A kid’s crash course in camouflage

Often the toys that get played with the most are not the ones you expect! Is it the same at your house? You’ve bought something inexpensive, without too much thought, and the next thing you know the child is obsessed. Perhaps for years. At our place, the old faithful toy of choice is a set of rubber sharks, whales, and dolphins that we picked up during a visit to an aquarium when Nate wasn’t yet one. He still plays with them pretty much every day, either in the bath, in the garden, or perhaps they drive the toy school bus. It’s amazing what a Humpback can do with those long pectoral fins.

Recently while supervising the splashing at bath time my thoughts drifted (as they do) and I started to really notice all the colourings on the toys. It was a pretty good place to start talking about camouflage in nature and how it works. “Why do you think all the whales, sharks, and dolphins have dark, muted colours on their backs, and white bellies underneath, Nate?” We then had a wee discussion about how light works in water. From above, the ocean looks darker the deeper it gets. If a shark was swimming along looking for its dinner, any little fish above it would struggle to see its dark back in the dark water below. But a fish underneath would look up and see the light coming through the water – and the shark’s white underside blends in perfectly. Brilliant. A much higher chance of sneaking up on your meal!

It’s called camouflage, I explained. A French word (coming from camoufler, to conceal or disguise). What else in nature uses it, we mused?

An octopus changes colour to meld in with its rocky underwater environment. If it is detected, it can squirt out a mass of black ink to aid in its getaway!

What about creepy crawlies, like stick insects? They use their camouflage in a different way – they are the ones being hunted, by birds and the like. They blend into their surroundings to avoid being eaten – here you can talk to your child about the difference between predator and prey.

Camouflage is often used in the snow, too. Why does your child think a polar bear is white, and a grizzly is brown? Encourage them to think about an animal’s environment, and how it finds its food.

Ask your child if they have ever seen a live peacock, or a picture of a peacock. Such a magnificent tail! But did they know that only the males have this glorious plumage? The female birds have very plain  brownish colourings. This is not only so that the male can attract a mate…it is so that the female is difficult to detect when she is sitting still on the nest. Camouflage at work to protect the family!

The most well known animal that uses camouflage could be the chameleon, changing colour depending upon its background. Children find this creature fascinating! Here’s a thought-provoking question for your little one…if a person is described as being chameleon-like, what might that mean? See if your child can apply the concept from nature to personality.

What other animals can your child think of that rely on camouflage during the day or night? Cheetahs? Giraffes? Tigers? Sting rays? Raccoons? etc…

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