Science Project:

African Savanna Animal Adaptations: Camouflage

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African savanna animals like zebras live in herds and are protected from natural predators like lions because their striped pattern makes it difficult to pick out a single zebra from the group (which confuses the lion because it cannot focus on a single target to attack). Savanna animals like zebras aren’t just protected by camouflage—they can run fast too, up to 40 mph! Some are great at zigzagging while running, making them even harder to catch.

However, carnivores use camouflage and speed to survive too. Cheetahs have a spotted pattern in their tan coat to help hide them while they’re stalking prey, and can also run up to 65 mph (and accelerate 7 mph each stride)!

Let’s test your friend’s predatory abilities and see if the animal adaptation of camouflage really does help animals, like those that live in the savanna, escape detection!

How easily can people see hidden, camouflaged pieces of paper?

  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • 2 sheets of newspaper with text only
  • 3-5 sheets of colored construction paper
  • Friend

  1. Do your friends have super-duper predator vision? In nature, animals sometimes hide on backgrounds that look like them. This is called camouflage. In this experiment, you’ll test your friend to see whether he can see camouflaged pieces of paper.
  2. First, get a big piece of newspaper. This is your background for the experiment. It’s where you’ll hide the other pieces of paper.
  3. Next, cut pieces of the different colors of construction paper into rectangles that are 2 inches high and 4 inches wide. Make five of these pieces.
  4. Now cut five pieces out of a second piece of newspaper. These rectangles should be the same size as the pieces of copy paper. Avoid pieces with photos on them.
  5. Put the big piece of newspaper on the floor, and arrange the squares of colored paper and newspaper on the big piece of newspaper.
  6. Create a hypothesis, your best guess as to what is going to happen. How many rectangles will your friend see?
  7. Bring your friend into the room with his eyes closed. Get him to look at the newspaper for a second, then turn around and report to you. How many rectangles did he see?
  8. What would happen if you let your friend look for a longer amount of time? How long does it take him to see all of the rectangles?

Your friend will see the colored pieces of paper before he sees the newspaper.

Why?

Think about the newspaper squares as the camouflaged animal, and the full sheet of newspaper as the surroundings. The newspaper squares were difficult to spot because they blend in to the background, and the colored construction paper squares are what your eyes are drawn too. The same goes for animals in the savanna; the animals that are camouflaged do not draw attention to themselves and can escape notice by predators (or prey).

You can also relate the newspaper to a zebra herd, and the newspaper squares to individual zebras—they’re tough to pick out. Imagine that the herd is running as a group to escape a predator. It’s enough to make you dizzy!

Some animals take camouflage beyond patterns. They actually look like something in their environment. Stick and leaf insects are great examples of this kind of mimicry. They look like real sticks and leaves so they can easily hide in the forest. However, some animals, like poison dart frogs, have adapted to be brightly-colored and stand out in their surroundings. These bright colors scare off predators because they indicate that the animal is poisonous (sometimes brightly-colored animals aren’t poisonous, but use this as a bluff).

Can you think of any ways to make this experiment harder? You can even try making some camouflage to wear yourself and see if your friend can find you!

Author: Tricia Edgar
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