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life sciences, art




color as
an adaptation


one or two
class periods


text link


graphic link

You may print this activity
for educational use.


Before their visit, students will learn that... animals use color to help them survive.

Background Information

For many animals, being seen means being eaten. To escape notice, many animals conceal themselves by looking like something else in their environment. Their bodies take on the shapes and colors of plants and they sit very still so they're not noticed. This is called camouflage [definition]. Some animals, such as a chameleon [graphic] and giant squid [graphic], can change body colors and patterns to match their surroundings.

Other animals want to get noticed and are brightly colored. But why? Won't they get eaten? It's not that they have a death wish. They're brightly colored as a warning, like a stop sign, to teach predators to recognize them and leave them alone. These animals have warning colors that tell predators that they taste bad or are deadly to eat. Poison arrow frogs and monarch butterflies are poisonous to eat and use color to stand out so they donšt get eaten.

Colors also appear on some animals during certain times of year. Robins and other birds get more colorful in the spring. This is to attract the attention of potential mates. Bright colors are supposed to signal that the animal is healthy and should make a good partner.

This activity gives your students a closer look at the value of a color in the natural world, especially colors that camouflage.



  • None.


Are humans camouflaged? Why or why not?

What do you need to be camouflaged?

Why is camouflage useful?


  1. Have your students come to school camouflaged. Suggest they choose clothing colors and patterns that match the colors and shades of the classroom or schoolyard. They should also wear clothes that are loose or bulky to break up body outlines.
  2. See who blends in best in the classroom and in the schoolyard. Have students sit still in the open and have a team of judges decide who is hardest to find (best camouflaged).


Is it easy or difficult to camouflage yourself?
When you're camouflaged, what happens when you move?
Are there things you can do to help you hide (sit still, sit close to a tree, hug the ground, etc.)?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of camouflage?

Extensions / Variations

Have your students come to school dressed to stand out. Suggest they choose clothing colors or patterns that contrast with the colors and shades of the classroom or schoolyard. Have a team of judges decide who is easiest to find (stands out t he most). Using photos or other visual materials, show animals that are brightly colored because they're deadly to eat (poison arrow frogs) or brightly colored to attract attention (cardinal or robin in spring). Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being colorful.

Adapted from

Duensing, E. and A. B. Millmass. Backyard and Beyond. Golden, CO, Fulcrum Publishing, 1992.

Additional Sources

Burnie, David. How Nature Works. Pleasantville, NY: Readeršs Digest Association, Inc., 1991.