I have two partridge who astonish me with their ability to conceal themselves while pecking at berries on open ground just outside my window. They blend in perfectly with fallen leaves and withered grasses while wearing such stunning apparel!
Because nature’s animals/plants often reflect a particular ability that is also mirrored by human behavior I started thinking about what the word camouflage really means for animals and for humans, reflecting upon the differences between how the two utilize this strategy.
In nature camouflage is not nuanced the way it is with humans. Camouflage has one primary purpose: to help animals survive as individuals and as a species. However the variety of ways that animals use camouflage is impressive.
Coyotes live in the shadows; they couldn’t survive if they didn’t. They use stealth to secure their prey. The Viceroy butterfly camouflages itself by looking almost exactly like the poisonous Monarch butterfly, thereby avoiding predation. Many other insects embrace this tactic. The Luna moth has four eyes on its wings to intimidate any aerial predator. Lizards turn the color of the stones they bask upon becoming invisible to all but the most discerning eye. Hiding out under juniper bushes like the rabbits do during the day, seeking tasty clover in the twilight hours minimizes the possibility of becoming a fox’s dinner. Weasels turn white in the winter. Wearing a disguise that mimics snowfall probably fools many hungry owls. Remaining still helps deer and bear to remain undetected during a long arduous hunting season. The examples I could give are endless.
Here in the valley Ruffed Grouse still find refuge. They are one of the few animals that continue to inhabit this sanctuary that is surrounded by forests that have been harvested, or trashed in raw human hatred. Every spring the males drum from the exact same location in my woods. During the summer I flush grouse regularly when walking through my young forest. Sometimes in the woods I will surprise a mother with babies who uses the broken wing tactic to distract me as her little ones escape. This year, mama, a bird who knows me raised her brood just behind the fence in an old brush pile. She let her chicks peck away contentedly even as I passed by. By mid- summer she routinely led her little family through the yard and down to brook to bathe while hugging tall grasses.
Most impressive are the partridge who visit my yard each fall to feast on all the crabapple berries. This year I think I just have mama and papa, but I cannot be sure. Now that the mossy open area around the cabin is covered with slippery leathery brown leaves one of the partridges often struts across the lawn just before dawn. I can identify this one as a male because his neck feathers are a deeper russet color and his neck is thicker than that of the female but the differences are very subtle. I see the female pecking at the ground where berries have fallen from the only crabapple tree that still has some left. Mama’s colors seem slightly less defined to me but this might be my imagination. Both blend in so well with their surroundings that if I didn’t perceive slight movement I wouldn’t know they were there. Yesterday the two partridge appeared together giving me a chance to study them together. What I immediately noticed is that the male puffed (!) out his chest, while the female kept pecking the leaves for tidbits. These two were so well camouflaged that I had trouble following their movements while trying to get pictures of the two! The grouse couple knew I was watching them and peered in the window even though I knew they couldn’t see me because of the angle of the sun.
Aside from the fact that I love these birds I am so impressed by their ability to wear a ruffled feathery cloak of invisibility in plain sight!
The primary difference between the way animals and humans use camouflage is that the former use this strategy for survival, while humans rarely do; Instead humans use this tactic to communicate with one another, or to deceive. Words are often used to harm others without their knowledge and can be more deadly than the wound from any sword. The opposite of using the Power of the Word to harm is to remain Silent. These two deadly killers of relationship leave a person walking on air.
To lie to oneself or to others deliberately or through omission is another way that humans camouflage their intentions and motives. Righteous indignation, logic, false neutrality (everyone has an opinion), negotiation are ideological disguises that also use words to deceive; nothing is rarely what it seems. Betrayal lurks in the shadows… Humans are the ultimate tricksters. It is no wonder people dislike animals like coyotes that lurk in the shadows. We are looking into nature’s mirror and nature never lies. Humans are unmasked!