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February 2, 2013 at 6:08 PM

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(A wild) Northwest Wanderings: Hiding in plain sight

Would it be pretentious to say the jaguar has a basso profundo growl?

And if you hear it in the tropical rain forest, you might not even see the big cat before it enjoys its next meal. That's because, like so many members of the animal kingdom, it knows how to blend in. Its spots are camouflage in the dappled light of dense vegetation. "They're hard to see," says Martin Ramirez, curator at the Woodland Park Zoo.


From counter clockwise: Top, The jaguar's natural camouflage makes it difficult to see in the dense vegetation and dappled light of the tropical rain forest. It allows the large, powerful cat to stalk and seize prey. But only 10,000 are estimated to survive, mainly because of habitat destruction. This jaguar, as well as the frog, zebras and cobra below, live at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.

Bottom left: The giant leaf frog easily blends into the rain-forest cover. It's one of the world's largest. It feeds on insects and small live prey. In turn, it can be eaten by snakes.

Bottom middle: Zebras have disruptive coloration making their outlines harder to see in tall grass. Bottom left: The giant tree frog easily blends into the rain-forest cover. It's one of the world's largest. It feeds on insects and small live prey. In turn, it can be eaten by snakes.

Bottom right, This king cobra, the largest of all venomous snakes, is the same color as the ground. These snakes can wait for prey, other snakes, rodents and lizards.

Animal patterns are about increasing the odds of survival -- they help the predators to stalk and lie in wait, and help the hunted to hide and live another day.

The king cobra, appropriately named with a head as big as a fist, blends in with the ground. It grows to 18 feet and prefers a diet of other snakes, rodents and lizards.

The cobra usually strikes at a human only if it feels threatened. Ramirez says, "Can you imagine stepping on one? They're really scary." You'd better have a large syringe of antitoxin handy.

Zebras use a different method, called disruptive coloration. They prefer safety in numbers; the stripes not only help them blend into tall grass, but make it difficult for predators to see specific outlines within the herd. When a lion charges into the herd, a panicked zebra that runs off alone is easier to see.

Giant leaf frogs move very slowly in the trees, almost indistinguishable from their surroundings. Their camouflage It helps protect them from birds and snakes, but also allows them to capture insects and small, live prey.

Hiding in plain sight is a lifesaving advantage.


The Aplomado falcon at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash., has a light underside making it difficult to see when it's cruising overhead in search of something to eat, like another bird, which is its main prey.


The largest of all lizards, the Komodo dragon is a skilled hunter and a meat-eater. Found only on a few islands in the South Pacific, it's now an endangered species.

For more photos of from this Northwest Wanderings, visit the gallery.

For more Northwest Wanderings, visit the latest blog post.

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