Reptile Camouflage – The Master of Disguise

Reptile camouflage is a remarkable ability that helps these creatures blend in with their environment. Some of these masters of disguise are wild but others like scarlet king snakes and western diamond back rattlesnakes make amazing pets!


These fascinating animals can hide in a sea of sand, among mosses, or even behind other dead leaves. Their camouflage is based on color, texture and even smell!

Tentacled Snake

Tentacled Snakes are a species of fish-eating snake that can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes at a time. They have a unique method of hunting, by lying in the weeds with their body in a ‘J’ shape and waiting for fish to swim past.

This may not be the most efficient way to catch fish, but it’s also a good thing for Tentacled Snakes because their vision is impaired by murky water. When this snake is unable to see the fish, it will ‘ripple’ its muscles in an attempt to mimic the movement of the fish and lure it towards its venomous fangs.

The tentacles on the head of the Tentacled Snake are thought to act as a mechanosensory device. This assumption has been supported by trigeminal afferent responses, which have shown that the tentacles are sensitive to movement and vibrations in direct contact with them. Moreover, when Tentacled Snakes were presented with simulated fish movies on a horizontally positioned flat screen display, they oriented to the simulation and (after a few presentations) struck accurately at it (see Movie 1 in the supplementary material).

Kapuas Mud Snake

The ability to change hues can help animals hide from predators and prey. Reptiles like chameleons can change skin colors for several reasons including regulating their temperatures and expressing mood. However, snakes that can change their skin color are relatively rare. The Kapuas Mud Snake, native to Borneo, can do just that.

The mud snake, Enhydris gyii, was discovered in wetlands along the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan by WWF and German reptile experts. The half-meter long slitherer was initially reddish brown when the scientists collected it, but 20 minutes later its skin had turned a pale white.

This species of snake is the only known member of its family that can change skin color spontaneously. Like chameleons, mud snakes use specialized cells located beneath their transparent outer skin to create different colors. The upper layer produces yellow and red hues, while the lower cell layer reflects blue light.

Aegean Wall Lizard

Many lizards, including chameleons and geckos, can change their color to match their environment. But the Aegean wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii) doesn’t have that ability, relying instead on camouflage to avoid being eaten by birds that hunt them on the ground or in the air.

To see how well the lizards matched their rocks, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Exeter analyzed photos of Podarcis erhardii from four Greek islands: Folegandros, Santorini, Syros, and Skopelos. They found that the lizards on each island matched their environment, matching the colors of the rocks that surrounded them.

Marshall told IFLScience that the lizards were “probably indistinguishable to an aerially hunting avian predator” when they rested on their chosen rocks. However, she wasn’t sure how the lizards knew which rocks were the best matches for them. “They don’t have the same visual systems as the predatory birds, so we don’t know how they choose their resting spots,” she said.

Scarlet King Snake

Reptile camouflage teaches us a lot about the amazing adaptations that help animals hide from predators and prey. From the blending in of leaf-tailed geckos to the color changing tricks of chameleons, these masters of disguise give a whole new meaning to hiding and seeking!

The non-venomous scarlet king snake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) mimics the venomous coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). They co-occur in the southern states and both are found in pine woods, grasslands, farms and wetland hammocks.

These fossorial (living underground) snakes are solitary and move mainly at night. They hide under rocks, rotted logs, wet leaf litter and even debris like boards and roofing tin. They feed on lizards and eat the eggs of other snakes and frogs. When threatened, scarlet king snakes vibrate their tails much like rattlesnakes do to make themselves appear more dangerous and discourage attackers. This behavior is known as aposematic camouflage.

Western Diamond Back Rattlesnake

Crotalus atrox, also known as the western diamondback rattlesnake, spitting rattlesnake, coon tail, buzz tail and Texan rattler, is a venomous snake in the subfamily Crotalinae of viper family (Viperidae). Found in the deserts, grasslands and pink-oak forests of Mexico and the United States, these rattlesnakes coil, rattle and stand their ground when threatened. Their rattle is made from interlocking segments that bounce against each other to produce the rattling sound. The segments are hollow and made of keratin, the same protein that human nails and hair are made from.

These nocturnal hunters use the heat-sensing pits in their faces between the nostril and eyes to locate prey. Their venom contains genes that attack muscles and the blood cells of their victims. Like their brethren in the pit viper clan, this snake has a spade-shaped head, elliptical pupils and reserve fangs to replace any that break off during a kill. Its distinctive rattle grows segment by segment from the end of its tail, each one the keratin remnant of a shed skin.

Desert Horned Lizard

A cross between a dinosaur and a toad, the desert horned lizard uses camouflage, horns, and eye ducts that shoot blood to deter predators. This lizard, a member of the family Phrynosoma, has 21 recognized species throughout North and Central America.

When threatened, these lizards puffed up to appear larger and more ominous and they shoot a stream of blood from ducts in their eyes at would-be predators (the squirt can travel up to 3 feet away). The poison is designed to confuse the enemy and also contain a chemical that is toxic to dogs, coyotes, and other common predators.

These lizards live in arid habitats like deserts, rocky slopes, and alluvial fans. They are able to harvest rainwater using channels in their skin that direct water down their backs and into their mouths. In addition, they bob their heads and do “push ups” to divert enemies and for mating displays.